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Review: Mozart's Requiem at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

In recent years the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has applied itself to highlighting and celebrating talented women composers whose work has too often been sidelined thanks to historical patriarchy.

They include Lili Boulanger, Amy Beach, Clara Schumann and – later this season – Florence Price, as well as some of the best and brightest modern female composers like Joan Tower, Vivian Fung, Caroline Shaw and Grace-Evangeline Mason.

And, thanks to support from the Sirens programme (a 10-year initiative to promote music by historical women composers), singer, pianist and composer Marianna Martines, a Viennese contemporary and friend of both Haydn and Mozart.

You can only imagine, enviously, the Martines soirees where Mozart arrived, not with wine or chocolates, but a new four-hand sonata to try out at the piano.

While Haydn and Mozart might have been granted musical immortality, Martines was really only well-known during her lifetime, her prolific output including masses, oratorios and songs for solo voice.

This Saturday night programme was thoughtfully built around that musical friendship, and around Martines herself with a delightful performance of her lively, light-footed cantata Orgoglioso fiumicello for mezzo and orchestra which, rather than opening the evening, was placed after (the older) Haydn and before (the younger) Mozart.

Eléonore Pancrazi, brought a lovely operatic storytelling quality to the mezzo line, delivered in sparkling and animated fashion, while conductor Corinna Niemeyer maintained a buoyant orchestral accompaniment from a chamber sized RLPO, underpinned by Stephen Hargreaves on harpsichord.

It was a welcome lift of pure joyfulness set between Haydn’s darker, almost austere ‘La Passione’ Symphony No 49, and the rich, roiling emotions wrought by Mozart’s Requiem.

Niemeyer radiates enthusiasm and conducts without a baton, leaning forward with arms outstretched to conjure melodies from strings here, woodwind there, drawn on invisible threads.

A composed adagio was full of carefully considered dynamics and phrasing, while the allegro di molto delivered plenty of meaty, hard-playing ‘sturm und drang’, and the menuet (like a full bodied Bordeaux but on the ears not the tastebuds) was nicely punctuated by welcome brightness in the trio. The symphony's presto finale was deftly driven.

Above: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Choir, conductor and soloists.

The Phil was joined after the interval by the massed ranks of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir for what proved a magnificent Requiem if, at first, a decidedly speedy one – its Requiem aeternam much more moderato than adagio which added a somewhat stressful, breathless edge to its unfolding reflectiveness.

The choir, evidently working well with guest chorusmaster Joseph Judge this season, was crisply impressive in a full-on Kyrie and a Dies Irae with real dramatic punch, brought into sharp relief by the calm of the soloists’ Tuba mirum.

Placing the resting soloists at the far reaches of the stage led to more than one scuffling hiatus (I’d have been inclined to have their chairs closely flank the conductor) but once together they proved a beautifully balanced quartet of voices.

The following Confutatis came with brilliant dynamic fierceness from the choir’s tenors and basses, with the female voices adding a delicate foil, while together they delivered an immense, bruising Sanctus.

But equally, there was real dignity through an emotion laden Lacrimosa and a wonderful Agnus Dei, the strings swirling beneath a beatific choral line.

The sustained ovation which followed the final, slow, lowering of Niemeyer’s arms was indeed well deserved.


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