To close out their season at Carnegie Hall, the Orchestra of St. Luke's presented an all-Mozart program Thursday night, under the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s music director (and celebrated Mozart interpreter), Iván Fischer. The program featured a pair of greatly contrasting works: the sunny Symphony No. 34 in C Major, and the dark, enigmatic Requiem.
Mozart’s final Salzburg symphony is an anomaly of form: a three-movement work, rather than the typical four-movement structure. The first movement was ablaze in precisely played trills and speedy scales, quickly shifting mood for the more intense minor-key moments. The highlight of the piece was the serene second movement Andante, scored only for strings and two bassoons. As in a handful of his chamber works, Mozart divided the viola line into two parts, rounding out the string sound even further and showcasing some tender moments for the oft-neglected instrument.
The mood change for the Requiem on the second half could not have been greater. As opposed to the symphony’s bright oboes and horns, the Requiem relies primarily on the lower-pitched basset horns, bassoons, and a trio of trombones. From the opening bars of the "Introitus," Fischer set a solemn tone and never looked back, moving elegantly into the grandiose "Kyrie eleison" fugue. In this fugue—and often throughout the work—Fischer turned away from heavily accented entrances, coaxing the orchestra and choir to round out the sound of each entrance, especially in the fugal material and the opening of the "Sanctus," where the ensemble sound blossomed rather than attacked.
Fischer was completely focused and engaging throughout, choosing tempos that heightened the drama without making stodgy work of the material. Additionally, Fischer chose to intersperse the choral group Musica Sacra with the members of the orchestra, providing a true unity of orchestral and choral forces.
The soloists, who sang on raised platforms, provided some marvelous moments as well, with Dominique Labelle’s crystalline soprano easily projecting throughout. Baritone Richard Paul Fink was magnificent in the famous "Tuba mirum" section, mirroring the solo trombone’s initial articulation and phrasing. The only blending problems arose in the "Recordare," where mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor and tenor Joseph Kaiser struggled to be heard.
The evening’s most dramatic moment came at the end. As the "Lux aeterna" fugue came to its final cadence, Fischer ignored the standard loud, declamatory statement of the final phrase, instead choosing to gradually soften the dynamic of the final “quia pius est [for thou art merciful].” From there, the conductor kept his arms in the air as a blanket of silence covered the hall for a solid fifteen seconds, leaving the momentary silence to echo the everlasting silence left behind by Mozart’s lost voice.