Dunedin Consort - Mozart: Requiem - BachTrack.com (LIVE REVIEW)
28 September 2013BachTrack.com
Since reading Stravinsky's assertion
(in Poetics of Music) that "The more constraint one imposes, the
more one frees oneself from the chains that shackle the spirit", this paradox
has fascinated me. The "one" in the case of the 1779Vespeare solennes de
Confessore, was Archbishop Colleredo of Salzburg; the beneficiary of the
constraint was the 23-year-old Mozart, ordered to temper artistic impulse in
the service of liturgy. The Dunedin Consort joyously inhabited the space
created by Mozart's skilful navigation between the spirit and letter of the law
in this Lammermuir Festival concert.
Operatic rather than liturgical joy
illuminated the opening Dixit Dominus as the twelve-strong
chorus, whose power belied its number, sang of "the beauties of holiness from
the womb of the morning". Is it ironic that the lion's share of solo interest
in Beatus vir ("Blessed is the man") goes to a female soprano?
In this case any such irony was swept away by the authoritative and expressive
Joanne Lunn, who later shone in the Laudate Dominum. The chorus
squeezed maximum drama from the closing line of the Beatus Vir,
which sets with astonishing freshness the same timeless text ("as it was in the
beginning...") as that which ends the other five movements. Live music being as
much a visual as an audio event, we in the audience could thank double bassist Robert
Franenberg for highlighting a surely forbidden hint of dance, particularly in
the fugal Laudate pueri. Being the most visible for standing beside
this tallest of instruments, his committed performance seemed to embody the
Dunedin Consort's infectious vitality.
Jonathan Manson, the soloist in C.P.E.
Bach's 1753 Cello Concerto in A major, did not emerge from, and
repair to, a green room, but from within the orchestra. During one of live
music's touchingly human incidents (a slightly delaying mislaid viola part),
one could see how relaxed Manson was. These few moments allowed Dunedin
director John Butt to provide valuable improvised background detail on the the
work's composer who, we discovered, was one of the first musicians to consort
with the intelligentsia of his day. This erosion of servant status, later
entirely rejected by Mozart, chimed with the work's enchanting mixture of
gestures, in which the momentum of Baroque sequences contrasted with constantly
changing classical phrases. Manson wore his virtuosity lightly, which suited
the work nicely. In this winning mix of old and new performance practices, he
seemed far from romantic concerto soloist status, deferring to Dunedin Consort
leader Cecilia Bernardini, as each movement slowed to its conclusion. There was
some lovely high-wire work in the Largo, offset by some quirky orchestral
chords which flashed like flint; these were further employed, with igneous
eccentricity, in the closing Allegro assai. I'm very grateful to have been
introduced to this thoroughly engaging piece.
John Butt conducted from a music stand,
as as opposed to his customary keyboard, the work which I imagine had drawn
this capacity crowd to St Mary's, Haddington: Mozart's Requiem Mass in
D minor. The temperature of this fiery work rose tastefully in the
opening Requiem aeternam, Joanne Dunn's lovely solo voice offering
central solo contrast to the outer choral sections. The three tenors soared in
the supplicating phrase, "Exaudi orationem meam" ("Hear my prayer"). With three
to a part in the fugal Kyrie eleison I briefly wondered
whether twelve singers would be sufficient. The terrifying Dies irae scorched
any such concerns. The thunderous contribution of the brass and timpani
suggested volcanic fire rather than steady flame. From this inferno rang out
Rowan Hellier's wonderfully mature, powerful and warm solo mezzo-soprano voice.
Fiercely articulated dotted string rhythms supplied the dreadful majesty of
the Rex Tremendae while beautiful choral balance and dynamics
ensured quiet panic in the words "salve me" ("save me"). In such moments the
human and liturgical elements of the work were beautifully balanced.
In vocal quartets such as the Recordare one
became aware that, like Manson in the preceding concerto, the soloists were
emerging from the ranks. This was extremely impressive considering their mighty
I thought it a nice touch that the
musicians' short tuning breaks coincided with page-turns in the audience's A4
programmes. There was sufficient dread in the work without promoting
"performance anxiety" in the audience. Taking the time to sit with a parallel
text Latin/English programme allowed previously overlooked features to sink in.
One such example is the wonderfully conveyed angst in theAgnus Dei, a
serene movement for many composers; another is the jaunty, extended
counterpoint on "quam olim Abrahae promisisti" ("which you once promised to
Abraham"). Mozart had clearly left Archbishop Colloredo far behind and, soon,
all who knew him. He lives on thanks to magical performances like this one.
Related LinksDunedin ConsortMozart: Requiem (Reconstruction of first performance)