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Mozart and Haydn/
The Dream of Gerontius

Barbican, London

THEdreaded lurgy descended on the concrete jungle that is the Barbican for these two performances. Magdalena Kozená was struck down for her performance of Mozart and Haydn with the Orchestra of Enlightenment. The Swedish mezzo Malena Ernman replaced her without providing any special moments. With that also came a change of programme, so we were denied Haydn's Arianna a Naxos Cantata.

It was only because the Czech mezzo was a star but not the star of the show that probably saved the authorities from a disgruntled audience. The presence of Sir Simon Rattle was enough the keep them onside.

Rattle was at his vibrant best and shows a sure touch with the smaller orchestra as he does with a full one. Indeed, he breezed through Haydn's Oxford Symphony so quickly you wondered whether he was desperate to get home and administer some Night Nurse to Kozená.

A couple of days later Ben Heppner was indisposed for the second of two performances of Gerontius. His absence will also be lost to history because this performance of Elgar's oratorio was being recorded for release on the LSO Live label. Perhaps they could fill up the rest of the second CD with a vox pop of the audience's coughing. I particularly like the one that starts at the diaphragm and works its way up into a perfect accompaniment to the French horn, although the most irritating are the little wimpy ones that surely can be suppressed. It's easy: close your mouth and hold your breath for about an hour.

Anyway, David Rendall replaced Heppner in the title role, with bass Alastair Miles as the Priest. The real joy of this performance, other than the London Symphony's magnificent chorus, was Anne Sofie von Otter making her debut as the Angel. The Swede's experience and versatility leaves her ahead of relative newcomer Kozená in the mezzo stakes.

This performance was even more remarkable when it is considered that many of the audience, myself included, were brought up with the legendary Janet Baker in this role. Von Otter, though, was magnificent and brought a fresh approach. Praise, indeed, to the holiest in the height. Amen to that.

Review by Peter Wilson


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