By the end of this concert one half-expected demons to be waiting at the exit door. Rossini’s Stabat Mater is no work of pastel-shaded grief but a typically Italian invocation of the day of judgment, when choruses will roar, trumpets blare and drums thunder.
To match the scale of the piece, the orchestra moved from its usual home at the Queen Elizabeth Hall to the larger concert hall at the Barbican. It is good to see this period-instrument orchestra also making periodic ventures into different repertoire (Rossini has been slow to catch on with the authentic brigade) and it sounded on fine form here, with its ranks bolstered by extra players.
There was a curtain-raiser first. Beethoven’s Symphony No 8 can sound bad- tempered in the wrong hands, but the conductor Mark Elder made sure that its fiery spirit was all about a release of joyful energy.
In the Rossini the fires were fanned into a conflagration. It is often remarked that period instruments produce a more delicate sound. Not so when a lot of brass instruments are involved: the combination of a fearless posse of horns snarling on the left of the stage and a rank of sepulchral trombones on the right made for some fairly awe-inspiring sounds. Add in the extra ranks of strings and this was a performance that threatened to rouse the dead.
A couple of late changes resulted in a solo quartet of mixed styles and timbres. The tenor, Charles Castronovo, sang with some Rossinian light and shade. Anne-Marie Owens was the heartfelt mezzo, Jonathan Lemalu a less formidable bass than usual, and in the soprano’s “Inflammatus” the impressive Sondra Radvanovsky showed how stirring a strong voice with gleaming tone can be. By this point the London Symphony Chorus was fully charged up and its final, furious cries of “Amen” were enough to chill the blood. Not a comfortable night for sinners. ★★★★☆
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