MUSIC REVIEW: Mozart Requiem

Mozart Symphony No. 36 in C major, Linz & Requiem Mass in D minor Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Featuring the Brandenburg Choir and soloists
MUSIC REVIEW: Mozart Requiem
Mozart Symphony No. 36 in C major, Linz & Requiem Mass in D minor Australian Brandenburg Orchestra Featuring the Brandenburg Choir and soloists As a child, I thought that Mozart's music must be what they play in heaven, so unearthly beautiful did his music seem to me. I no longer believe in heaven, but there is still Mozart, and so I was very much looking forward to immersing myself in his music tonight. I had never heard Mozart's music performed as it would have been performed back then - with a much smaller orchestra, more like the size of a chamber orchestra, and with period instruments as well as in the period's style. This meant for example that almost the whole orchestra performed standing up. It also meant that there wasn't a dedicated conductor, because back then usually the first violin or the basso continuo player would take on that role - in this case Artistic Director Paul Dyer. Unfortunately, I couldn't really hear the fortepiano from where I was sitting, but it was nonetheless amazing to watch him play while conducting a whole orchestra at the same time. The downside of this period presentation was that we are so used to hearing classical music performed by a large orchestra that we have a hard time adjusting to the less full and less dramatic sound of a smaller orchestra. This was probably one of the reasons the symphony didn't have as much of a dramatic effect as it could have had" another reason was that while the orchestra was displaying absolutely perfect technique, part of its soul seemed to be missing. The presentation was sometimes too mechanical to really touch your heart. Mozart's Symphony No. 36 in C major, the Linz Symphony, was reportedly written in only four days while Mozart was staying at the palace of one of his benefactors, Count Thun, in 1783. He was asked to present a concert but didn't have a single piece of sheet music with him. Therefore, Mozart being Mozart, he simply decided to write a new one. Yet I couldn't shake the feeling that with some more time to work on it, it might have been an even better symphony. The famous Requiem, however, is powerful stuff. Imagine a 35-year-old genius at the height of his powers, accepting an anonymous commission for a death mass and then falling deathly ill himself. Listening to the deeply emotional, hauntingly beautiful and sombre music of Mozart's Requiem, you can't help but wonder what it must feel like to know that you're dying while composing music to lyrics like "My prayers are unworthy, but you, good Lord, look kindly on me, lest I burn in the eternal fire." Moreover, Mozart was convinced he was being poisoned, an idea that fuelled all sorts of rumours soon after his death. They are almost certainly untrue but naturally make for a much more dramatic story than rheumatic fever, the most likely cause of his death. The high drama was to continue after his death, when his widow Constanze had to deliver the goods or forfeit the advance that Mozart had already been paid for the work. With no income herself and two children to feed, she offered the unfinished work to Franz Süßmayr, a family friend and occasional student of Mozart's, who took it on and finished it in early 1792. It's easy to be prejudiced once you know which parts of the Requiem are Mozart's and which are Süßmayr's, but it certainly seems to lose its spark and much of its appeal after the Offertory, the last part for which Mozart wrote or at least sketched out his ideas. There is none of the originality, daring and spirit of the earlier parts in the Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei or the Communion, and you keep wishing Mozart had still been alive to finish this masterpiece - not to mention produce another 40-odd years of his heavenly, soaring and soul-touching music. Mozart Symphony No. 36 in C major Venue: City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney Show Times: Fri Feb 27, Sat Feb 28, Wed Mar 4, Fri Mar 6, Sat Mar 7, 7pm Tickets: Adults $54 - $120 Under 30: $26.50 - $41 Child under 16: $26.50 - $63.50 Bookings: City Recital Hall Angel Place Box Office Telephone (02) 8256 2222, cityrecitalhall.com

Elisabeth Meister

Thursday 5 March, 2009

About the author

Elisabeth Meister is a Sydney-based translator and writer.