The first half of this Mozart evening was taken up by Richard Goode’s mostly sluggish rendition of the composer’s soft-spoken final Piano Concerto. There was no basic want of sensitivity or elegance in the playing of the soloist or the orchestra, and there were even a few felicitous moments, most notably in first movement cadenza (Mozart’s own), but overall this was performance with little sparkle or charm.
Three funereal chimes set the somber tone that inhabited the second half the concert. Although Masonic Funeral Music was not, like the works that followed it on the program, a creation of 1791, it was the perfect mood-setter for the composer’s final sacred works. Manfred Honeck drew a serenely affecting account of the sober and unembellished elegiac piece from the scaled-down Philharmonic. The tolling chimes sounded again at the conclusion of the brief work, and then the orchestra intoned the dramatic opening measures of Mozart’s transcendent Requiem.
While we more often hear the efforts of Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who, at the request of Mozart's wife, Constanze, took on the task of completing the setting, on this occasion the Requiem was performed in the incomplete 1791 version, as the composer left it. And to signify Mozart’s last musical expression, the poignant eight-measure ‘Lacrimosa’ fragment was repeated at the end. Honeck drew a wonderfully radiant, generally brisk-paced performance from the Philharmonic. Clean, transparent textures combined with gravity to allow the dark colorings of Mozart’s orchestration to vividly come through.
The vocal forces were strong, Ben Bliss’s fresh and supple tenor making an individually memorable impression, as did the commanding bass of Matthew Rose. But the standout vocal work was the crisp, focused singing of the youthful seventy-member Westminster Symphonic Choir (composed of students at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, New Jersey). The choristers sang with eloquence, passion and exceptional focus throughout, and were especially moving in the hushed and simple motet, Ave verum corpus (for chorus, strings and organ), which brought an appropriately gentle sense of closure and resignation.