Uplifting rendition of Mozart's pieces in a minor key

Japanese conductor and organist Masaaki Suzuki.
Japanese conductor and organist Masaaki Suzuki. PHOTO: MARCO BORGGREVE

REVIEW / CONCERT

MASAAKI SUZUKI CONDUCTS MOZART

Singapore Symphony Orchestra

Esplanade Concert Hall

Last Friday

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 at the Esplanade Concert Hall. 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 employed a chamber- sized ensemble and the result was a performance of litheness and compactness.

Although very swift speeds were adopted, the music did not feel rushed.

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 third movement's bounding energy was 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 were four times larger.

This juxtaposition of chamber orchestra with a Victorian-sized choir onstage was probably because of the venue's capacious size.

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 rendition of Dies Irae was one to rouse the living and wake 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 the ensemble segments was nowhere near perfect.

This concert featured the Singapore premiere of the edition and completion by Masato Suzuki, the conductor's son, which incorporated changes to the familiar Sussmayr movements.

Most significant was the addition of a minute-long fugal Amen for chorus placed between Lacrimosa and Domine Jesu, which was a pleasant diversion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Uplifting rendition of Mozart's pieces in a minor key'. Print Edition | Subscribe