Was it really, as the concert bill had it, the Day the Music Died? Hardly, with Haydn in full flow, Beethoven coming up strongly and Schubert still six years unborn. All the same, Mozart's death at midnight on 5 December 1791, with the pages of his incomplete Requiem strewn across his bed, remains the most iconic demise in musical history. And this London Mozart Players programme in St John's, on the very anniversary of his deathday, was ingeniously designed and intently directed by its conductor Matthias Bamert to exploit the occasion to the last drop.
We began with music by Mozart's baselessly supposed poisoner Antonio Salieri: a brief three-movement Sinfonia in D major "Veneziana", neatly packaging all the going clichés of the time and wickedly chosen to demonstrate his lack of true spark.
There followed a concert performance, sung in Russian, of Rimsky-Korsakov's curious one-act operatic setting of Pushkin's "little tragedy" Mozart and Salieri, depicting Salieri's jealousy, Mozart's initial fecklessness, then foreboding as he previews the opening of the Requiem, and the quaffing of the poisoned drink itself.
In keeping with Russian "realist" theory of his time, Rimsky-Korsakov set this pretty much all as expressive recitative. But he also made some attempt to incorporate elements of Mozart's more chromatic manner. The results are a little like Tchaikovsky on a less than inspired day and rather unlike anything else by Rimsky-Korsakov himself. Nonetheless, Jeremy White simulated a remarkably authentic Russian bass manner as Salieri, the tenor Paul Austin Kelly conveyed just the right volatile lightness as Mozart, and the piece made its effect.
And so to the Requiem, K626 itself - not, for once, in the dubious familiar completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, but strictly confined to Mozart's own surviving manuscript fragments. Since he finished in full score only the opening "Introit" and "Kyrie", what we heard thereafter sounded increasingly and uncannily starved - often only the vocal parts and bass line, with mere hints of the details for violins, trombones or basset horns he intended to fill in later. Then, eight bars into the "Lacrymosa", the music suddenly cut off and the capacity audience was plunged into darkness. Lest we forget? As if we ever could.