Review: Mozart’s Requiem

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THEY say the devil has the best tunes but that ain’t necessarily so, especially if you’re an Austrian Catholic.

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Usher Hall

After the Reformation, art was the prime weapon with which the church fought its great religious propaganda wars and the divine inspiration musically reached a glorious height with Mozart’s Requiem.

Surrounded by mystery and myth, which provided the background for the Peter Schaeffer play and subsequent movie Amadeus, the great composer’s final work was unfinished at his premature death in 1791 and completed by his pupil Sussmayr.

Did Mozart know he was writing his own funeral music? We’ll never know, but last night’s performance by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the SCO Chorus was every bit as spine-tingling as the packed audience expected.

The soaring Chorus maintained the intensity and power of this extraordinary work throughout and it’s all the more remarkable that final rehearsals were cut short when one member suffered a sudden illness and had to be hospitalised.

Perhaps it added to the emotion, but any reduction of rehearsal time had minimal effect on the performance, if any at all.

From the stunning opening of the Introitus and the Dies irae, the intricacies of the Recordare and the beautiful Lacrimosa, probably the last notes Mozart wrote, even unbelievers should be gripped by this ultimate expression of the triumph of a soul passing into eternity.

The groundwork was done in the first half with a sublime performance of Mozart’s earlier Kyrie from 1781, which fed into the Requiem and is as moving a piece of devotional music as you could hope to hear. All it needed was a cathedral.

With it was another famous unfinished work, Schubert’s familiar Eighth Symphony with the first movement dominated by the depth of the basses and the delicacy of the cellos, and the second the excellent echoing woodwinds and French horns.

Under the baton of Philippe Herreweghe, the evening passed in the beat of a timpani and SCO management should be very satisfied that so many people were there to witness it on a miserable, wet night.