The concert given in King’s College Chapel on Thursday, May 20, was good, bad and indifferent. As the first fifty bars of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony welled up into the vaults, I found myself extremely impressed. Here was a vitality and urgency that would well repay having to listen to only half a Symphony before having to listen to only half a Requiem. There are numerous completions to the Schubert, and one at least by Frank Merrick and now that it is generally agreed that Schubert actually did finish the work and that the last folios were lost by the carelessness of one Hüttenbrenner, considerations of the composer’s intention are superfluous. Let us have the whole thing somehow. However, as the performance proceeded the wood-wind became progressively more irresponsible, and it was clear that the symphony lacked finish in both senses of the word.
The Mozart Requiem which followed had moments of great excellence, and on the whole the minor defects of the performance were not brought home to one any more than they are during Tosti’s Farewell played over one’s “Brunch” at a Maison Lyons. The chorus sang delightfully and their words were (laudably) somewhat more distinct than those of the soloists. Doris Eaves (soprano) seemed to be out of sorts in her first entry, but she gathered momentum in due course. The Kyrie eleison was superb.
Mozart’s cynicism reaches its height in the Tuba Mirum, and this was effectively reflected by all concerned. But the tea-time feeling was well and truly obliterated by the fine rendering of the Rex Tremendae. The latin names of these two sections sound like school-boy howlers, but of course the continuation of the sentences clarifies the distribution of cases.
The soloists seemed slightly remote in the Recordare, as if diffident of being remembered too closely by their Maker, and I must say I agreed with them. So did the orchestra, and the stodginess of the later part of the quartet was suitably overwhelmed.
Some ragged choral singing in the Domine Jesu was offset by supreme tranquillity achieved in the Hostias, but the Sanctus did not begin loud enough and so misfired.
The soloists came into their own once and for all in the Benedictus with the Tenor (Daniel McCoshan) nicely incisive. King’s Chapel is such that if you sing in it with an edge on your voice, the edge must be clean. The other soloists were contralto, Catherine Brosnahan and bass, Kenneth Jones.
The orchestra (leader, John Grunau) was remarkably well behaved, except during the introduction to the Agnus Dei, and the organ was throughout tactfully and effectively used. Denis Fielder seemed to be conducting with dignity and aplomb. It was in fact a fine evening.
The grand fugue in the Agnus Dei was the crowning glory of the achievement. It has a chugging quality that was admirably caught and held. I should not have been surprised, as it moved off, to hear a guard’s whistle blown, and the slamming of carriage doors—and to find we had been transported like freight even so far as Shelford.