It seems a little inappropriate to describe a Requiem performance as lively or invigorating, but with Mozart’s music and Pieter Jan Leusink’s joyously flamboyant conducting style, that’s exactly what Sunday’s performance was. Almost dancing to the music rather than leading it, Leusink was fun to watch, as he drew warm, honest and committed performances from choir and orchestra.

Pieter Jan Leusink © Bach Netherlands Choir
Pieter Jan Leusink
© Bach Netherlands Choir

The Bach Orchestra of the Netherlands plays on reproductions of 18th century instruments, including the use of the basset horn rather than the modern clarinet. With only one or two instruments in a section, the orchestra created a very intimate feel. The pitch at this period was also slightly lower than modern concert pitch, and the overall effect created a warm, soft texture. Leusink used the original Süssmayr completion of the score.

The all Mozart programme opened with four arias performed by the Russian soprano Olga Zinovieva, whose beautiful soprano has a liquid quality, with a glowing tone. The first two arias, “Nehmt meinen Dank” KV 383 and “Un moto di gioia” KV 579, made for a measured, pastoral opening to the concert. Zinoveieva seemed slightly tense in these first two arias, but gave a lovely, sparkling account of “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!” KV 418. Her interpretation was playful and sensual, enjoying the creamy, soaring lines and duetting with the excellent oboe soloist.

I couldn’t help but notice that Zinovieva’s posture and swaying movements occasionally pulled the vocal instrument out of its alignment, affecting tone production, and both her voice and interpretation would be better served by finding a little more tranquillity in her stage manner. There were also some issues with the text, which was not always articulated clearly or consistently, with some muffled consonants and uneven vowels. She communicated charmingly with the audience however. The fourth aria, ‘Chi sà, chi sà’ KV 582, showed her supple coloratura, set off delightfully by warm playing from the horns.

In the Coronation and Requiem masses, some of the finest moments came when the quartet of vocal soloists were singing together. The alto, tenor and bass particularly made a beautiful blend, lyrical and full-bodied. The bass soloist changed for the Requiem from Joep van Geffen to Thilo Dahlmann. Both were beautifully balanced in the quartets. Dahlmann brought gravitas and a lovely, firm and expansive sound to the Tuba mirum and the Benedictus in the Requiem, while van Geffen, though having fewer solo moments, showed a rich, mellifluous tone in the Coronation Mass. I enjoyed Martinus Leusink’s strong, energised tenor, while countertenor Sytse Buwalda’s voice was pure and very agile, both especially shown to advantage in the Tuba mirum.

The choir did sterling work; the soprano section deserves particular commendation for a floating, graceful sound, with a beautiful piano which was very touching in their plea “voca me” in the Confutatis maledictis. The overall sound was elegant, full and warm. The all-male alto section could, by virtue of the uniquely penetrating timbre of the countertenor voice, occasionally be a little overpowering at forte moments, sometimes threatening to overbalance the sopranos, but they also added an interesting colour to the overall palette.

The Coronation Mass, short enough to be performed in one half of the concert alongside the arias, had some terrific moments. The ‘Gloria’ was warm and rich with a great sense of urgency and excitement, and excellent playing from the strings. The ‘Credo’ was taken at a rattling pace, with beautiful contrasts between the gorgeously lyrical “passus sepultus est” and the exultant allegro sections, in which the accents were delivered with great panache.

A few moments in the Requiem weighed a little heavy, which surprised me with such an economically-sized orchestra and taut vocal ensemble. The detached coloratura in the Kyrie was over-articulated. The Domine Jesu, on the other hand, was wonderfully precise, spilling over with barely contained energy. Vocalists and instrumentalists alike enjoyed the syncopated entries and dynamic contrasts, under Leusink’s exuberant direction. The audience responded with enthusiasm, especially when Leusink indulged us with an encore: a repeat of the Dies irae. What a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon, listening to such a warm-hearted, enlivening performance.