A Mozart Requiem to Remember
Monday 20th November 2023
Many of us in the choir had sung Mozart’s Requiem many times before - but never quite like this! For the choir’s Remembrance Day concert in All Saints’ Church on Saturday November 11th, our Musical Director Lee Dunleavy had made some striking changes to the score.
It is well known that the Requiem was left unfinished at Mozart’s death, and completed at his widow’s request by his friend and fellow composer Süßmayr. The manuscript peters out a few bars into the Lacrimosa movement, which was the last music Mozart ever wrote. In the programme note, Lee explains what happens next:
“Tonight we will remember this moment audibly: we will perform Lacrimosa as Mozart left it, with the strings petering out, and after the final incomplete bars a bell will toll: one strike for every year of his life. As the final bell fades into silence Mozart’s voice re-emerges, with the sketched melody leading into the remainder of the Lacrimosa as imagined by Franz Xaver Süßmayr.”
Picking up an idea from a completion of the work by contemporary composer Michael Finnissy, Lee then ended the Lacrimosa - very movingly - with a fading heartbeat in the form of repeated strokes of the kettledrum. The audience were also in for a surprise in Lee’s version of the Sanctus, transposed from the key of D major (Süßmayr’s choice of the ‘key of triumph’ for this movement is more than a little surprising) into D minor, in order to lead more naturally into the following Benedictus.
Our audience may not have got quite what they were expecting in our performance of Allegri’s Miserere either. The version of this piece which is most often heard bears little relation to Allegri’s original plain setting of 1638, which has been embellished with descants and ornaments over the intervening centuries by generations of choral scholars in the Sistine Chapel. What we presented, in a version prepared by Lee Dunleavy based on the edition by Ben Byram-Wigfield, traced the gradual evolution of the piece from its simple beginnings through to the better known version with those famous top Cs in the soprano part. Lee had also found two other settings of the Miserere for us to sing, one by the mixed race Brazilian composer José Maurício Nunes Garcia, the other by Mozart’s friend and contemporary Marianna Martines.
The Allegri setting, and the solo and quartet sections in the Mozart, really gave our professional soloists a chance to shine; they were all superb. We were fortunate to have Jessica Smith, a graduate of Royal Holloway, University of London and The Guildhall School of Music and Drama, as our soprano; Lufuno Ndou, originally from South Africa and a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire, as our mezzo-soprano; Gopal Kambo, a choral scholar from St John’s College, Cambridge, as our tenor, and the baritone Robert Garland, who trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and the Royal Academy of Music. They were joined by our very own Ciará Preston Myakicheff, who took the second soprano line in the Allegri quartet sections, and Rob Silversmith who sang the plainchant sections in the Garcia. Well done, Ciará and Rob!
Our orchestral partners for the Mozart were the Beauchamp Sinfonietta, who were in very fine form indeed. It’s been a while since they last joined us for a concert, and we were very glad to welcome them back. Special mention should be made of Chan Chi Keung’s resonant trombone solo in the Tuba mirum, and of David Skidmore’s eloquent cello continuo in the first two settings of the Miserere, playing alongside Colin Druce on organ.
Our capacity audience in All Saints’ church clearly enjoyed the evening very much, and for all of us it will be a night to remember. Huge thanks as always to our MD Lee Dunleavy for his tireless efforts and inspirational leadership, and also for the enormous amount of work he put into preparing the editions and marking up scores, not just for the choir but also for the orchestra.
Please find below a link to a very complimentary review of the concert by Clive Peacock in the Leamington Courier - with apologies for the poor image quality!
Leamington Courier Review (2.38Mb)