It is fully understandable that concert organisers must curtail performances because intervals are considered unsafe for the public in the current circumstances. Nevertheless, it is more difficult to comprehend why the same approach is applicable to online performances pre-recorded in empty venues. In any case, the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra’s most recent stream – rather conventionally filmed in the wood-panelled Queen Elisabeth Hall – proposed only one work, the 45-minute long Requiem in D minor that Mozart left unfinished.

Mozart's Requiem in the Queen Elisabeth Hall
© Vincent Callot | Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

As modest and insightful as always, Philippe Herreweghe conducted energetically the widely accepted completion by Franz Xaver Süßmayr (who’s exact contribution is still subject to debate), underlining the operatic character of the music more than its contemplative nature. The Dies irae and Rex tremendae seemed a little rushed, but the Sanctus was filled with the expected solemnity. A few orchestral entrances lacked sharpness, but individual contributions, such as the solo trombone in the Tuba mirum, were remarkably clean. Overall, an ensemble that is not specialised in historically informed performances played well for a conductor with whom it has been collaborating for decades.

Katharina Konradi and Sophie Harmsen with the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra
© Vincent Callot | Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

The quartet of soloists was comprised of musicians often performing in Baroque and Classical vocal and orchestra works, working together harmoniously under Herreweghe’s guidance. Kyrgyzstan-born Katharina Konradi demonstrated both the operatic qualities of her soprano and her experience in Lieder singing. Her pure and fresh voice, capable of reaching the upper register effortlessly, soared with ease above the orchestra when needed. At the same time, her contribution was full of tenderness, restraint and expressive weight. Mezzo Sophie Harmsen approached her part with equal flexibility, her rich middle voice infused with dramatism. Tenor Ilker Arcayürek, an alumnus of the Mozart Knabenchor Wien, sang not only with adequate delicacy, but seemed to bring forward some of the melancholy and vulnerability characterising his wonderful Schubert Lieder renditions. Finally, Russian bass-baritone Mikhail Timoshenko, owner of a rich and penetrating instrument, was occasionally a tad over eloquent.

Philippe Herreweghe conducts Collegium Vocale Gent and the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra
© Vincent Callot | Antwerp Symphony Orchestra

The success of a Mozart’s Requiem performance is mostly dependent on the quality of the choral singing. Dispersed on the three sides of the balcony surrounding the stage, in front and in the back of several rows of empty seats, the members of Collegium Vocale Gent – an ensemble that Herreweghe himself founded more than four decades ago – were still able to fill the space with an impressively cohesive sound, transparent and powerful at the same time. The contrast between the angelic serenity of the sopranos and the vigour of the male voices was beautifully characterised in the Confutatis, while the Lacrimosa was imbued with unexpected fervour. Overall, the clarity of the contrapuntal work was remarkable, Herreweghe maintaining an almost perfect balance between human and instrumental voices at all times.

This performance was reviewed from the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra video stream