LSO & Chorus / Tilson Thomas, Barbican Hall, London
Thursday 21 February 2008
One way of looking at Janacek's Glagolitic Mass is to imagine that the voices raised in affirmation and outrage are those of pagans who have been Christian for about a week. The idea of shouting one's message from the mountain tops is here taken to literal extremes – just one manifestation of the work's non-liturgical roots.
You might even call Glagolitic Mass a secular Passion – something for non-believers to believe in. And with Michael Tilson Thomas at the helm of the intrepid London Symphony Chorus and Orchestra, you had better believe it.
At the heart of Janacek's wild and sensual Mass is the Credo. "Veruju" ("I Believe") sings the chorus, over and over again, as if the very act of repetition might make it so. Tilson Thomas and his chorus grew ever more expressive with each imploration, boldly underlining how emotive Janacek's word setting is. The fusillade of Amens at the close of the Gloria were led off by a virile young tenor, Stuart Skelton, whose command of the impossibly high tessitura suggested an acolyte well accustomed to killing the fatted calf. He was joined by the soprano Measha Brueggergosman, whose knowing seductiveness of line more than hinted at the other kind of passion.
It was all very vivid and exuberant, marred only by an imported electronic organ whose opaqueness did nothing for Janacek's Phantom of the Opera-like tirades. This is an Albert Hall piece if ever there was one. Or better still, Westminster Cathedral, to shake up other lapsed Catholics like Janacek.
In the first half of the concert, Tilson Thomas brought a similar lustiness to Dvorak's 8th Symphony. This timely Valentine from Bohemia's woods and fields was blessed with all manner of affectionate detail. The greatest possible contrasts were made between its homely reveries – such as the basking cello theme of the opening – and the innate need to dance. The first movement's allegro con brio was exceptionally feisty, a kind of symphonic furiant. When a shadow did briefly fall across the slow movement, Tilson Thomas and the LSO strings instilled the kind of hush suggestive of all nature stopping to listen.
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