Mozart’s Requiem (7 and 8 April 2023)
From time to time, one reads gloomy reports about the audience for classical music shrinking since the pandemic. There seems to be no evidence of this when it comes to concerts in Oxfordshire by the Orchestra of St John’s, for which audiences always appear to be in rude health. Indeed, two all-Mozart concerts over Easter 2023, at Dorchester Abbey and SJE in Oxford, were sold out in advance. The Orchestra’s association with a charitable cause is an added attraction – as is the fact that it performs in beautiful venues – but its reputation for attractive programmes and performances of high quality is also no doubt drawing the crowds. These two concerts featured Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, Requiem, and ever-popular Concerto for Flute and Harp, performed with much joie de vivre by sisters Fiona and Jean Kelly.
I am lucky enough to sing regularly with OSJ Voices, the choir that joins the Orchestra for selected concerts. The attraction of singing with this group is that all members are excellent sight-singers and know the core repertoire inside out. Mozart’s Requiem is a piece that conductor John Lubbock knows even more intimately, and he conducted it without a score at the Oxford concert, giving every instrument and voice part its cue and even mouthing along with the singers – all told, an astonishing feat. The ability to maintain constant eye-contact between conductor and singers allows the performing forces not only to take risks in terms of tempi – an electrifyingly fast and furious Dies Irae in this case – but to find ways of communicating the expressive meaning of a piece. Lubbock coaxed the deepest emotion from both choir and orchestra: plaintive consolation in the opening chorus, dramatic contrasts in the Rex tremendae and Confutatis, heartrending lyricism in the Lacrimosa, and more. Soprano and alto soloists Hannah Davey and Charlotte Bentley captured the music’s most tender intimacy, bass Frazer Scott was commanding in the ‘Tuba mirum’, and tenor Xavier Hetherington reminded us that the Requiem was the product of a composer as at home in the opera house as in the church or concert hall.
I haven’t sung this work for ten years or so, though it is hard-wired into my musical system as one of the first works of classical music I discovered as a teenager, and from countless subsequent performances. These concerts offered an opportunity to fall in love with the Requiem again, to reflect upon the mastery of the piece, and to discover – after such challenging recent years – a spirit of hope and renewal in a performance of thrilling dramatic intensity.
Professor Alexandra Wilson
Professor of Music and Cultural History
School of Arts
Richard Hamilton Building
Oxford Brookes University