Sunday, March 8, 2009

BSO - Stravinsky & Mozart - 03/07/09

Conductor: Jun Märkl
Stravinsky: Apollo
Mozart: Requiem - Baltimore Choral Arts Society - Christine Brandes - Susan Platts - Roger Honeywell - Timothy Jones

Everybody has their own favorite pieces from Mozart's incredibly wide-ranging oeuvre, and for me, it was his Requiem that first got my attention, and still has it after all these years. Of course, it can be argued that he did not write it all, but his imprint is unmistakably all over the score and his untimely death all but adds a special poignant touch to an already spectacular work. Commissioned by Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach upon the death of his young wife, Mozart postponed composing it quite a few times maybe due to other more pressing engagements, maybe due to his fear of inviting his own demise. After he did pass away, his widow had his student Süssmayr finish it more out of dire needs for money than out of some loftier desire of preserving her genius husband's name for posterity, but it has remained one of his most enduring masterpieces. The first part of the concert was Stravinsky's Appollo, which I had never heard of, but sounded inviting enough, and this was finally the first opportunity for me this year to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Strathmore, which always qualifies as a special treat.

Stravinsky's Appollo has a special connection to Washington as it was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a dedicated and generous classical music supporter, who most notably gave us the wonderful Coolidge auditorium of the Library of Congress. Composed as yet another ballet accompaniment, this time revolving around the Greek god of the sun, it is lovely work making the most of a reduced all-string orchestra. All finely crafted harmonies and melodies, it also features a few stirring parts for the solo violin, and eventually leaves the audience with a lingering feeling of peace and serenity.
Hearing the Requiem on CD is good, but hearing it live in such an acoustically blessed venue brings the whole experience to an entirely different level. Yesterday evening, under the assured baton of maestro Jun Märlk, the orchestra, chorus and soloists all unequivocally joined their impressive forces for a beautifully musical and deeply spiritual performance. From the grandly rising Requiem aeternam to the final Lux eaterna, this relentlessly unrolling stream of magnificent moments surely got under the skin of believers and unbelievers alike. Among the many highlights stood out the fierce medieval tune Dies Irae, the exquisite solo quartet Recordare, and the hauntingly somber Lacrimosa whose first eight measures is the last music Mozart ever wrote. Striking the perfect balance not only in terms of sounds but moods as well, the concert was totally awe-inspiring. Who could have guessed a mass for the dead could be such an uplifting experience?

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