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Review: Mozart’s Requiem, Northern Chords, Newcastle Cathedral

A concert called Unfinished finished in glorious style with a cathedral performance of Mozart's Requiem

Jonathan Bloxham with Newcastle High School for Girls pupils
Jonathan Bloxham with Newcastle High School for Girls pupils

The fourth concert in this gem of a festival went under the title Unfinished but don’t get the wrong idea.

Far from being in anticipation of the fire alarms or divine intervention calling a halt to proceedings, it was a reference to the music.

Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, the composer’s eighth, was sandwiched between Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni and his brilliant Requiem.

Jonathan Bloxham, cellist and aspiring conductor, manages to gather in the North East each year a dazzling and largely youthful ensemble of musicians.

Their energy and enthusiasm in this concert was good to see and it was expressed through the music, making a nonsense of the feelings normally associated with a Requiem Mass.

Mozart died (in 1791) at just 35 when he had been busy writing his Requiem. If he was cocking a snook at death, that was the conclusion you had to draw here as orchestra and choir combined to deliver a compelling bouquet of sound.

Despite a couple of breaks for the choir to move a little creakily from their raised platform to seats behind – the creaking coming from the woodwork rather than assembled limbs – the performance was sublime. When it ended, I felt I drew breath for the first time since the opening note.

Girls from Newcastle High School for Girls, who have attended masterclasses run by Jonathan, joined the Festival Chorus and Orchestra, adding youthful verve.

Soprano Catriona Clark did a fine job, standing in for Jennifer Witton in a line of fine soloists – Anna Huntley (mezzo), Jonathan McGovern (bass) and Ben Johnson (tenor), who has his own Northern Chords concert at Sage Gateshead on Friday, May 29.

Mozart’s sparkling Overture, full of mischief and precocity, opened the concert and led nicely into the ‘Unfinished’ whose compelling melodies swept over us.

It was easy to see why the piece, set aside by Schubert six years before his death, lives on after the best part of two centuries. It does make you wonder why he felt he had better things to be doing.

The concert was a credit to all concerned, not least the conductor who seems well equipped – on this evidence – to realise his dream.

The festival concludes with the Gala Concert at Sage Gateshead on May 30. Details from www.northernchords.com or the Sage Gateshead website.


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