Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, leader Amyn Merchant
Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Chorus Master Gavin Carr
Conductor: Kees Bakels
Elizabeth Watts, Soprano, Jennifer Johnston, Contralto Joshua Ellicott, Tenor David Stout, Bass
Don Giovanni Overture
Symphony No.38 “Prague”
Amsterdam-born Kees Bakels, the BSO’s former Chief Guest Conductor, has remained a regular visitor to Poole since he gave up the post in 1999. In a pre-concert interview Bakels, now in his late sixties, said how much he still enjoyed his relationship with the orchestra. Their familiarity with each other leads to rehearsals being harmonious, efficient and searching. In this concert he was delivering an all-Mozart programme. The first half saw persuasive, finely-detailed performances of the Don Giovanni Overture and the 38th Symphony, while the second half featured the work the composer was working on on his death bed, the Requiem in D minor K626.
The origins of Mozart’s Requiem are wrapped in more myths, intrigues and confusions than possibly any other work in the classical repertoire. The Austrian Count Franz von Walsegg, a keen amateur musician, commissioned it anonymously in 1791 to commemorate the death of his young wife, probably intending to pass it off as his own, a trick he had pulled before. However, Mozart died before the work was finished, and his hard-up wife Constanza secretly engaged at least two musicians, most importantly Franz Süssmayr, to complete the score, before passing it off as Mozart’s unaided work and ensuring a good price for it. Both Walsegg and Constanza thus had good motives for covering up the work’s true origins. Scholars have spent the last two hundred years trying to untangle the conspiracy. The confusion provided the opportunity for Chekhov in Mozart and Salieri and Peter Shaffer in Amadeus to construct wholly imaginative dramatic accounts of the blameless Antonio Salieri’s involvement in a hypothetical plot to murder the composer. Despite being a hybrid and a collaboration, (Bakels thought that ‘probably less than 50%’ of the work is by Mozart) the Requiem has gained a secure and lasting place in the repertoire.
The performance saw the 120-odd strong Bournemouth Symphony Chorus matched with four excellent soloists and a relatively large orchestra of 40 strings, a dark-hued wind section of basset horns, bassoons, trumpets and trombones, chamber organ and tympani. Such a large chorus might be expected to lead to balance problems, but the BSO Chorus were immaculate in controlling dynamics from impressive power in sections like the Confutatis maledictis to hushed reverence in the Agnus Dei. The work’s emotional core – an at times desperate plea to merciful God for deliverance from death – came through with overwhelming force. The enthusiastic applause at the end felt almost sacrilegious in the face of such profound content.
Wednesday 13th November 2013