Adelaide Town Hall. 16 Nov 2012
The ASO’s recent master series concert was a solemn affair: funeral music, a long lamentation, and a requiem mass to finish off with just in case you hadn’t quite had enough of feeling miserable! However this is said in afterthought - at the time one felt a mix of response, ranging from deep loneliness and sadness to being joyous, hopeful and up lifted.
Mozart’s infrequently heard “Masonic Funeral Music” opened the concert. There were a few asynchronous moments at the start, but the splendid horns and woodwind wowed the audience.
Arvo Pärt has been called the ‘mystic of minimalism’ – his music is inspired by the Eastern Orthodox Church and is often without lavish musical decorations and florid orchestration. It has the ability to penetrate deep into the psyche of the listener and evoke a spiritual response. “Adam’s Lament” achieves just that and tells the story of the biblical Adam lamenting his fall from God’s Grace, his expulsion from Eden and the loss of earthly paradise. The sense of sorrow is palpable and the Adelaide Chamber Singers were sublime.
The Requiem was a commissioned work and was on Mozart’s drawing board, so to speak, at the moment of his death. Many myths surround the Requiem, especially the role of Antonio Salieri as made famous in Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus. His wife Constanze was keen to receive final payment for the work and was forced to have it completed by another composer. She settled the task on Süssmayr who is likely to have enlisted the support of others as well, and it is his version that is most commonly performed today. Others have attempted revisions, particularly of the ending, but these versions are of more interest in academic circles and Süssmayr largely persists.
The Adelaide Symphony was, as usual, impressive under the exacting baton of Arvo Volmer, but I couldn’t help think that the orchestra was overpowered for the Requiem and attention was drawn away from the text and the choir. Indeed, some of the most hauntingly beautiful moments of the performance occurred when the scoring called for fewer instruments or for them to play piano thus allowing the crystal clear enunciation, perfect pitch and controlled dynamics of the choir to come to the fore. The soloists – Greta Bradman, Sally-Anne Russell, Paul McMahon (who also performed in the ASO’s last performance of the Requiem in 2006), and Stephen Bennett – were excellent (especially in the ‘Benedictus’) and complemented the chorus, rather than the other way round, as they should. Their performances were straightforward – controlled, unforced, lyrical, no undue excessive vibrato – and they let the power of the text shine through. The choir however had to battle at times to be properly heard.
While driving home after the concert I caught the last fifteen minutes of the ‘live’ performance on the radio and greatly appreciated the art and skill of the sound engineer who was able to foreground the singers and not have them overpowered by the orchestra. This was precisely what I had devoutly wished for half an hour earlier in the concert hall.
Where: Adelaide Town Hall