A cart rolling through the rain and mud and a body being dumped unceremoniously in a paupers’ grave. A mysterious black-cloaked man, and a terrified, dying composer. These are the enduring images associated with Mozart’s Requiem thanks to the play and film Amadeus by Peter Schaffer, who died this week. Many performances of the Requiem draw on these ideas of fear and terror, but Lars Vogt and the Royal Northern Sinfonia Orchestra and Chorus took a step away from all that, in a performance that was often thoughtful, at times prayerful, but which also looked beyond the grave to the continuation of life.

Lars Vogt © Neva Nadaee
Lars Vogt
© Neva Nadaee
The programme this evening neatly wove together and ended two threads of Royal Northern Sinfonia’s season. Sibelius’ Symphony no. 7, one of his last major works, brought an end to the orchestra’s Sibelius cycle and exploration of Nordic music, whilst Mozart’s Requiem was an obvious conclusion to their ‘Reclaiming Mozart’ programme.

Vogt unfurled the kaleidoscopic patterns of Sibelius’s single-movement symphony with immense control, and with his characteristic attention to every detail, beginning with the carefully alert timpani beats and double bass notes in an intimate reading of the opening phrases: in their exposed passage in this first part, the middle strings sounded as if they were playing chamber music. Later in what could be described as scherzo passage, the music swung and danced, with a rhythmic sense of purpose.

Throughout the symphony, the strings buzzed with tensions and excitement, and by the end the music was like butterflies in the stomach with the sense of overwhelming expectation that Vogt created. By contrast, the winds were full of joyful curiosity, like an animal awakening from hibernation, stretching and exploring a new world around it; and every time the three trombones cut through the texture, they bathed the music in sunlight, providing temporary releases of the gradually building tension. At the end, when the high violins sound as if the music is about to die away in an unanswered question, first the brass then the flutes and the other winds piled in to support the fragile, stuttering life of the symphony through to its final release. Although Sibelius lived for 30 years after completing his Seventh, he struggled to write much afterwards; if this work is Sibelius’ musical death, this performance at least ensured it was a comfortable and welcome release, an acceptance that all things have to end.

This was a good concert for fans of the trombone; after their radiance in the Sibelius came one of the most famous moments in their orchestral repertoire – Mozart’s Tuba mirum. Emily White cruised through it with a beautiful sweeping legato in one of the best performances I’ve heard, matched by Neal Davies’ deeply resonant bass and great passion from tenor Ben Hulett. Soprano Ruby Hughes and mezzo Jennifer Johnston made up the fine quartet, the four voices well matched and balanced. Although Ruby Hughes indulged in too much distracting body movement, her voice had a nice dark edge to it, and the richness of Jennifer Johnston was, as always, a joy to listen to.

This was Lars Vogt’s first concert conducting the Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia, so I was interested to see how he would handle the choir. Some conductors leap into the driving seat of this well-oiled choral machine and push it to its limits, trying to see how fast it can go. Vogt instead concentrated again on details, in a performance that was beautifully presented and in which the choir were clearly comfortable, producing some of the best singing I’ve heard from them for a while. The heavily accented first syllables on the words ‘Irae’ and ‘Illa’ gave the Dies irae considerable punch, and there were some exquisitely executed crescendo-diminuendos in this movement, and later on. The lovely sobbing in the violins of the Lacrymosa sounded like a period-instrument orchestra, and the Sanctus and Benedictus which aren’t about death, were allowed to dance.

The revelation for me in Vogt’s reading of the Requiem came at the end of the Offertorium. In the first Quam olim Abrahae the chorus emphasised the factual narrative – the promise to Abraham – but on the repeat, after a very prayerful Hostias the chorus began to plead with God, reminding him, a sense of "but you promised" with the firm emphasis on the words et semini ejus (and his descendents’) to note that this promise extends down the ages to all of us.

In a concert that was all about musical endings, this Requiem looked ahead, ending with a Cum sanctis spiritu that was exciting and driven, but not despairing. And in the unannounced ‘Spotlight’ performance after the concert, Lars Vogt gave an unforgettable performance of Beethoven’s mighty Op.111 final piano sonata, another musical ending and farewell, but which looks ahead to Royal Northern Sinfonia’s next season.