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Koopman conducts Mozart

06/18/2011 -  & June 19, 2011
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem KV 626 – Vesperae solennes de Confessore KV 339

Lenneke Ruiten (soprano), Franziska Gottwald (alto), Jörg Dürmüller (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass)
Schweizer Kammerchor, Fritz Näf (chorus master), Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Ton Koopman (conductor)

T. Koopman (© Eddy Posthuma de Boer)

This concert opened the classical music section of this year’s Zürcher Festspiele (Zurich Festival). It must be said that this Festival cannot be compared with other prestigious music festivals such as Bayreuth or the recent Mahler Festival in Leipzig, where the towns are transformed into festival spirit – in Leipzig recently huge Mahler posters were everywhere to be seen. Zurich’s Festival is considerably lower key but does attempt to involve all the performing arts.

The Festival Committee chose to open this year’s classical music proceedings with a specialist of the baroque, Ton Koopman, not with his own Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra but with the resident Tonhalle Orchestra, suitably scaled down. Koopman’s emotional, rather introvert interpretation of the Mozart Requiem which in turn conveyed the anguish, the Angst, the fury, awe, and the final exaltation of this work. Koopman deliberately, as one would have expected of him, veered away from the style of the grand orchestra and went with a more intimate perspective.

The Tonhalle Orchestra sounded suitably raw and authentic even though not playing on period instruments. Koopman kept a steady and lithe pace throughout the work. The orchestra responded well to Koopman’s direction and the strings, without vibrato, obtained the edgy sound which Koopman clearly wanted.

Koopman brought with him a quartet of excellent soloists. Lenneke Ruiken started nervously but impressed later with her purity of voice, gaining in presence in the later Benedictus and Recordare. Franziska Gottwald, the alto, impressed throughout, as did the particularly sonorous bass Klaus Mertens. Only the tenor, Jörg Dürmüller sounded rather dry at first and uncomfortable with some of the intonation in his lower register, though he also improved as the performance progressed. The soloists blended harmoniously throughout, balanced well with orchestra and chorus, clearly a well-rehearsed ensemble.

The Schweizer Kammerchor trained by Fritz Näf is coming to the end of its relatively short musical life. Started in 1997 it has now, sadly, run out of State and Cantonal funding and is being disbanded this summer. However, a new privately-funded band of professional singers, the Zürcher Singakademie will effectively take its place (with the same group of about 32 singers?) under the direction of Tim Brown. The Kammerchor has sung to a consistently high standard throughout their existence and tonight was no exception. All four parts were secure both in intonation and diction, their dynamic shading impressive, their quieter passages suitably delicate.

If I had a qualm, it was that the work was not best served by the Tonhalle’s acoustics, which work very well with larger choral works or symphonic works. The Requiem would fare better in the Grossmünster or Fraumünster. The same quibble applied to the work after the interval, Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de Confessore, a series of festive vespers consisting of five Psalms and a Magnificat. Whilst most concert-goers would have recognised most parts of the Requiem, the Vespers were less known. They held plenty of interest; soloists and choir brought the same qualities to this work as in the Requiem, Lenneke Ruiten sang her Canzonetta in the Laudate Dominum most beautifully, and without it sounding at all hackneyed.

John Rhodes



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