This year’s Festtage’s theme could be called “das Ende, das Ende” – first there was the complete Ring with Götterdämmerung and not only one but TWO Requiem masses, Verdi’s (which I’ve unfortunately missed) and Mozart’s. While Verdi had a deluxe guest in the Teatro alla Scala forces, Mozart had been reserved to the Staatsoper’s orchestra and chorus. For the first part of the program, even the Staatskapelle Berlin’s musical director doubled as Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27’s soloist.
As much as I appreciate Daniel Barenboim’s sensitive playing this evening, it was rather informed by the Romantic point-of-view that this is angelic music that requires some sort of very expressive yet delicately univocal elegance. The orchestra embraced the approach wholeheartedly and painted broad lines rather than small and contrasted paintbrushes. Even if the encore (Mozart’s piano sonata’s no.10’s andante cantabile) had more than a splash of Schubert, it featured more chiaroscuro and more sharply defined phrasing. Again, a matter of taste.
When it comes to the Requiem (here performed in the good old Süßmayr version), Barenboim showed himself as an entirely different conductor who offered a highly theatrical account of Mozart’s last religious work. The maestro employed a large chorus and made heavy demand of his orchestra. The introitus showed a very good sense of balance in a big-scale perspective, but one could see in the Kyrie fugue that the Staatsopernchor is not really in the top of its game in this kind of music – the sound was blowsy, the divisions a bit labored and soft dynamics lacked naturalness throughout. Stimulated by the maestro’s energetic beat, their results could be short of messy (in Dies irae, all musicians were having a hard day’s work coping with the incisive beat and fast tempo). In any case, the dramatic approach did paid off in spite of the shortcomings until the lacrimosa. After that, Süßmayr’s ideas seemed to inspire less commitment from all involved and the impression was rather of hyperventilation than of vigor. The team of soloists was crowned by a thoroughly stylish Maria Bengtsson whose creamy soprano soared effortlessly and elegantly above everything else. Bernarda Fink partnered her well with her warm and velvety mezzo. Rolando Villazón’s phrasing involved an emphatic beginning of every phrase and some reluctance to hold back, but his usual fervor and commitment are always welcome. René Pape seemed a bit unconcerned and miscalculated the important opening of tuba mirum. All in all, a thought-provoking concert that required either more rehearsal or more aptly Mozartian forces.