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Published Monday, July 2, 2001

'Requiem' is a lush finale for Mozart fest

By Georgia Rowe

The San Francisco Symphony's Mozart Festival ended on a triumphant note over the weekend at Davies Hall, with a suitably glorious, large-scale performance of the composer's Requiem in D minor, K. 626.

Friday's performance, which was repeated Saturday, capped the orchestra's 10-day celebration of Mozart's works, and emerged the most cohesive of the five programs conducted by Sir Neville Marriner during the festival's run.

Perhaps it took 10 days for the revered British conductor and the orchestra to mesh. Perhaps it was the combined force of the orchestra, Vance George's Symphony Chorus and a superb team of vocal soloists. Or, perhaps it was simply the profound effect that Mozart's final sacred work always exerts on music lovers.

Whatever the reason, Marriner seemed to have overcome the vagaries of podium style that were apparent in the festival's opening concerts. Leading the 50-minute performance with a vibrant sense of discovery, the conductor produced a Requiem that beguiled the ear and quickened the pulse.

The orchestra gave a dynamic, attractively shaped performance, and the variety of textures, colors and effects that emerged seemed endless.

The vocal soloists were excellent, beginning with the pure, crystalline contributions of soprano Heidi Grant Murphy. Suzanne Mentzer's large, luxuriant mezzo-soprano was a decided asset. Tenor Stanford Olsen sang with resonant tone and shaped the musical line with particular flair. Making his Symphony debut, bass Michael George lacked vocal heft, but managed to deliver his part with clear, articulate phrasing.

Best of all was the Symphony Chorus, which, under the George's direction, sang with unity and power. The sounds raised in the largest choral sections -- the furious singing of the Dies Irae, the radiant outpouring of the Lacrymosa -- were breathtaking. The Hostias brought forth some of the most lovely, prayerful singing imaginable, and the Rex tremendae was -- well, tremendous.

The Requiem wasn't the only news. The festival's final two programs also presented a major artist in 31-year-old Lars Vogt. Making his S.F. Symphony debut, the German pianist performed Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 26 with the orchestra on Thursday, and Piano Concerto No. 27 on Friday and Saturday.

Friday, Vogt brought a wealth of sensitivity and insight to the assignment. Even if he and Marriner didn't always see eye to eye on matters of tempo, it was clear that this is a pianist with a vision.

Vogt approached the opening Allegro with a fleet, assured touch. The central Adagio elicited a delicate response from the soloist, and the finale sounded uncommonly graceful. Vogt doesn't appear on the Symphony's guest roster for the 2001-02 season, but here's hoping someone brings him back to the Bay Area soon.


©2001 Contra Costa Newspapers, Inc.