Monday, 1 May 2017

MASAAKI SUZUKI CONDUCTS MOZART / Singapore Symphony Orchestra / Review

Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Esplanade Concert Hall
Friday (28 April 2017)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 1 May 2017

Very soon after conducting a concert of J.S.Bach cantatas and concertos at the Conservatory in January, the eminent Japanese conductor Masaaki Suzuki made a welcome return. This time, it was the music of Mozart that was enjoyed by a capacity house which saw Esplanade Concert Hall's gallery seats fully occupied.

Works cast in minor mode are rare in Mozart's output, but these figure among his greatest and most expressive. Just two of his 41 symphonies are in the minor key, incidentally both in G minor. The second of these, Symphony No.40, is also one of his best-known. Its familiar opening theme, both dramatic and urgent in feel, made for an exciting starter.

Suzuki's employed a chamber-sized ensemble, and the result was a performance of litheness and compactness. Although very swift speeds were adopted, there was no feel of haste or hurriedness. The flowing narrative was very well delivered, with immaculate and homogeneous strings leading the way, interjected by uniformly excellent solo woodwind contributions.

The repeated figures of the slow movement were very well paced, and the 3rd movement's bounding energy were a tonic, with woodwinds and French horns brimming with vitality. The bustling finale was a feast of counterpoint, the clarity and definition of which will set a benchmark for future Mozart performances to come.

In Mozart's Requiem in D minor, quiet and sombre opening bars soon built up into a gripping performance that befitted its monumental stature. Those familiar with Suzuki's BIS recording with Bach Collegium Japan's chorus of 24 singers might have been startled to encounter the Singapore Symphony Chorus and Philharmonic Chamber Choir's forces which counted four times as many.

This juxtaposition of chamber orchestra with a Victorian-sized choir on stage was probably because of the venue's capacious size. This was no longer going to be a chamber concert, and thus no pretenses were made. From the opening Kyrie Eleison to the final Lux Aeterna, the chorus prepared by Lim Yau was the star of the show. 

By sheer force of will and numbers, the mass of voices sang as one, with very good consonances and accuracy of entries in the fugal choruses. The Dies Irae was one to rouse the living and wake up the dead, and equally vehement was Confutatis, before descending into the sobbing of Lacrimosa, which was where Mozart left the work unfinished.

The soloists, soprano Marie Arnet, countertenor James Hall (in place of a mezzo-soprano), tenor Alan Bennett and bass Callum Thorpe, acquitted themselves well although the balance of voices in ensemble segments was nowhere near perfect. The extended trombone solo heralding the singers in Tuba Mirum was delivered with great confidence.     

This concert featured Singapore premiere of the edition and completion by Masato Suzuki, the conductor's son, which incorporated changes to the familiar Süssmayr movements. Most significant was the addition of a minute-long fugal Amen for chorus placed between the Lacrimosa and Domine Jesu, which was a pleasant diversion.

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