Florian Helgath, Zürcher Sing-Akademie / Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Mozart / Ligeti / Ritter von Seyfried

Tonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-09-10

4.5-star rating

2022-09-24 — Original posting (concert photos may be added at some point)

Table of Contents


Venue, Date & TimeGrand Hall, Tonhalle am See, Zurich, 2022-09-10 19:30h
Series / TitleZürcher Sing-Akademie — Mozart: Requiem
OrganizerZürcher Sing-Akademie
Reviews from related eventsConcerts with the Zürcher Sing-Akademie
Concerts with Florian Helgath
Concert(s) with the Freiburger Barockorchester
Media Reviews featuring the Freiburger Barockorchester

The Artists

Choir and Soloists

The central “artist” in this event was the Zürcher Sing-Akademie (Zurich Singing Academy)—a choir whom I have written about in reviews from more than 10 concerts. See these reviews (link above) for information on the ensemble. Here, the choir performed with 8 + 8 + 8 + 8 singers, i.e., an ideally balanced configuration. The responsibility for the preparation of the choir rested in the hands of the South Korean choir conductor Hyunju Kwon.

The vocal soloists in this performance are all members of the Zürcher Sing-Akademie. The links below point to the individual biographies on the choir’s Website:


On this occasion, the Zürcher Sing-Akademie cooperated with the Freiburger Barockorchester. That’s one of Europe’s foremost ensembles specializing in historically informed (baroque and classical, more recently also early romantic) performances. It’s a formation which I have written about in a number of media reviews (see above). This was my second live encounter with the orchestra (see again the link box above). Here, the ensemble was led by concertmaster Peter Barczi.


Direction and overall responsibility were in the hands of Florian Helgath (*1978). Since 2017, Florian Helgath is the chorus master for the Zürcher Sing-Akademie.


Mozart’s Requiem is incomplete (see below for more detail). This concert presented a new attempt to reconstruct the missing movements. The creator of this reconstruction is the German conductor and composer Michael Ostrzyga.

Prior to the actual concert, there was a 15-minute podium discussion. Florian Helgath interviewed Michael Ostrzyga, trying to offer some insights into the process of reconstructing Mozart’s composition, the obstacles, the methods.

One point that was mentioned: Florian Helgath referred to the 1984 film “Amadeus”, asking whether the Requiem was indeed written on the composer’s death bed. Michael Ostrzyga denied this. He stated that the handwriting in the partial autograph (orientation / alignment of the stems, etc.) clearly indicates that the composition can’t have been written while laying in bed.

The amount of information given during these few minutes was of course limited. Yet, this is not the place to present a complete summary. Still, I have added some highlights in the section below. More details were available in the download-only program notes.

Setting, etc.

My position was near the center of row 16 (second row in the rear block) in the parquet seating. The big hall of Zurich’s Tonhalle am See was not sold out, but well-filled.

Concert & Review

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart c. 1780
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart: Requiem in D minor, K.626 (“Authentic Part”)

Composer & Work

The fact that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) died while he was in the middle of writing his last composition, the Requiem in D minor, K.626, is well-known. Mozart’s widow was desperate about being able to present the complete Requiem to the commissioner of the work. She initiated the first of many attempts to complete Mozart’s work—see below for a short summary.

For this concert, Florian Helgath split the Requiem into two parts. The first segment consisted of the movements which are either fully or at least mostly Mozart’s original. Up to the Confutatis Mozart’s composition was complete, or existed at least in detailed drafts, including the instrumentation. Mozart apparently always started writing down the choir parts and the bass line. The last movement in this first segment, the Lacrimosa, exists only as a fragment of eight bars.

The “Mozart Movements”
  1. Introitus: Requiem aeternam
  2. Kyrie eleison — Christe eleison — Kyrie eleison
  3. Dies irae
  4. Tuba mirum
  5. Rex tremendae
  6. Recordare
  7. Confutatis
  8. Lacrimosa

The Performance

The orchestra arrangement featured the two violin voices (6 + 5) on the left, followed by viola (4), cellos (3) on the right, in front of two double basses (violones) and a small chest organ and the timpani. All string players performed with baroque of early classical bows. The wind instruments (2 basset horns, 3 bassoons, 3 trombones, 2 natural trumpets) formed a row between the strings and the choir. For movements with solos, but without choir, the soloists moved to a central position in front of the choir formation, but still behind the orchestra.

I. Introitus: Requiem aeternam

The encounter with the orchestra’s sonority (in this venue): unlike in conventional performances with big orchestra, the basset horns (alto clarinets in F) and the bassoons instantly caught the listener’s ear. Their sound—brighter, more characterful than modern instruments—initially dominated the soundscape with exceptional clarity. As almost always, the Zürcher Sing-Akademie was arranged in two rows along the rear rim of the podium. With the limited size of the string voices, the choir instantly demonstrated its central role in this work.

As a fully professional ensemble, the Zürcher Sing-Akademie of course offered the expected, exceptional sound culture, perfect balance, excellent (but not exaggerated) diction and coloring of the vowels, clarity and transparency. The broad arrangement certainly helped with the latter aspects. It does, however, create a vocal soundscape that lacks the focus and the concentration of a more compact arrangement. It made me think of an organ with open pipe arrangement, as opposed to organs with an enclosure. That’s not a critique, but something that listeners might need to get used to at first, in case they were expecting the focused power of a massed opera chorus. It does, however, offer the big advantage of leaving enough “acoustic room” for a color-rich, historic orchestra.

There’s one quibble in my notes. With the ascending motifs in bars 40 – 42, the crescendo in the choir (soprano and tenor) felt exaggerated, overly “didactic”. I don’t think Mozart had crescendo forks in the score, and I don’t see a need / reason to use crescendo here.

II. Kyrie eleison — Christe eleison — Kyrie eleison

How refreshing to hear this performed not with pounding power in the “Kyrie eleison“. Rather, there was agility in the coloraturas, lightness in the articulation, clarity and transparency. Excellent, with maybe one very minor reservation. While striving for lightness, some ending syllables (typically crotchets on “-son“) may have been a bit excessively and demonstratively shortened. Sometimes almost to a staccato. On the other hand, the homogeneity, the vocal balance and coherence of the choir was astounding—e.g., in the “standing”, broad final (full) note.

III. Dies irae

The Dies irae (Day of Wrath) followed quasi attacca.

Excellent again, in the light articulation, the transparency, the perfect balance between choir and orchestra. There was no domination by the choir. This left “space” for the orchestra’s careful and detailed articulation (in the violins, in particular) to shine through. An unusually bright soundscape, overall.

I used to sing in the bass of a big lay choir around 45 years ago. Is it this which made me wish for more power & volume with the Quantus tremor est futurus in the choir bass? It depicts the horrors of the Day of Wrath, the Last Judgement. I think this could easily have been stronger. After all, it is in response to / alternating with the full, homophonic choir singing the same and more text. To me, in this acoustic setting, the choir bass seemed slightly “underrepresented”.

IV. Tuba mirum

The first encounter with the solo quartet! First, however, the solemn, bright and clear call by the narrow-bore tenor trombone. From his sheer volume and power, the bassist could hardly compete with the sound of the trombone. Yet, albeit not a “thundering bass voice”, the singer exhibited a pleasant, well-balanced timbre. A baritone, really, with some weakness in the lowest range (below c). The tenor, with his bright, clear timbre and excellent projection found himself in a role much better suited for his voice. The alto, a “mid-sized” voice with a slightly nervous vibrato, faced problems similar to the bass soloist. On the other hand, the soprano, a very nice voice with good projection, appeared to have an “easy play”, similar to the tenor. Both are perhaps also favored by Mozart’s score?

As a solo quartet, the four singers formed a harmonious, well-balanced ensemble, from sotto voce to the f ending.

From the point-of-view of practicality, it seems logical that Florian Helgath has the soloist quartet perform right in front of the choir, but behind the orchestra. In a good acoustic setting (such as the big hall in the Tonhalle), this should not make that much of a difference in terms of volume and overall balance. However, I do feel that in comparison to having the solo singers perform at the front edge of the podium, this makes it harder for the soloists to “connect with the audience”. Emotions (intimacy, fear, joy, etc.) are harder to convey from a distance. And yes, the singers in the Zürcher Sing-Akademie are all professionals—but they are not (yet) at the level of high-ranking international soloists, which further accentuates the disadvantage of the chosen setting.

V. Rex tremendae

An excellent orchestral opening, with dry staccato and sharply accented, clear punctuations in the descending scale! Here now, in this acclamation, the choir could play out its astounding volume and power, precision, coordination, clarity, and very good diction. OK, the “x” in Rex deserved a little more presence…

VI. Recordare

Here again, the orchestral introduction was an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful sonority of a historically informed performance: clarity in articulation and sound—not the least thanks to the absence of (noticeable) vibrato. This also efficiently avoided a “sound bath”. On the other hand, it may in parts have been Florian Helgath’s clear conducting (choir conducting, really) that may have contributed to a slightly dry / technical impression, given that this movement is an intense prayer / plea, so full of emotion?

VII. Confutatis

Maybe the highlight of the performance so far. Vehemence, clarity in the violent orchestral motifs, intensity and power in the Confutatis exclamations in the male voices. Then, instantaneous, perfect switching to the desperate, intense sotto voce pleas “Voca me” in the female voices, very clear, with virtually no (audible) vibrato, absolutely clean / pure in intonation. Beautiful, excellent!

VIII. Lacrimosa

This movement (Mozart’s farewell, in a way!) offered an opportunity to observe the interaction between conductor, choir, and orchestra. Florian Helgath’s clear gestures were instrumental in achieving coherence across orchestra and choir, and across the vast dynamic and expressive span. At the same time, in this movement, his “technical” direction also helped avoiding the excess larmoyance which often obscures the beauty of Mozart’s music, his last movement.

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

György Ligeti, 1984
György Ligeti

Ligeti: Lux aeterna, for 16-Part, Mixed Choir (1966)

Composer & Work

As Florian Helgath explained in the introduction, he, too, was “amending” Mozart’s composition, by placing an “extraneous object” at the pivotal position between “mostly Mozart” and the part reconstructed part that was reconstructed Michael Ostrzyga. He selected a work by György Ligeti (1923 – 2006): the Lux aeterna for Choir from 1966. That proved a clever choice—a work that both musically and in the listener’s impression does not interfere with Mozart’s music. It’s actually a highly challenging work for 16 voices a cappella (see Wikipedia for a detailed description):

The Performance

An entirely “different pair of shoes”—and indeed an extreme challenge for the choristers! From just looking at Florian Helgath’s direction, one could not possibly guess the difficulties, the complexity in this work. Throughout the composition, the conductor maintained a single, steady and calm, 4-beat pace. However, the difficulties are not in the rhythm, even though (as the above reference explains) the piece confronts quadruplets, quintuplets and sextuplets, assigned to each of the 16 voices (two singers each). Rather, the challenge is in intonation and orientation (i.e., not getting lost in the steady flow of gradually changing sonorities).

The beginning is one single tone, out of which neighboring tones emerge, evolving into a narrow cluster, progressively spreading out or migrating. Within the dense web of voices, one can hear melody fragments. Rarely, a voice sets in with an accent / stronger tone, or with text in a slow melody. But then, the other voices follow suit. Pattern of clusters, migrating through the voices, colors, migrating resonances, frictions between voices in narrow intervals. Rich, strong resonances like from a set of church bells, a mesmerizing mix, building up to full sonority, waning, building up again. Finally retracting to extreme sotto voce, vanishing, and ending in a long, counted / conducted pause of over half a minute.

Mastering the Challenges

Not just mesmerizing, but iridescent, fascinating, with almost hypnotic power. As stated, the key challenge is in intonation. There were only two singers per voice (which is tricky in first place). Then, it is very hard to maintain a pitch against several close neighboring tones nearby—even if a singer has perfect pitch. Not all of the singers may have that ability. For those without perfect pitch, a tuning fork (of which one could see several in use) may help finding a tone. However, even that isn’t easy among the strongly ringing resonances.

In general, the Zürcher Sing-Akademie presented an amazing, impressive performance—despite occasional, rare and momentary insecurities (especially in the most exposed, high soprano voices). Beautiful, fascinating, stunning music!


Michael Ostrzyga
Michael Ostrzyga

Mozart / Süssmayr / Ostrzyga: Requiem in D minor, K.626 (Reconstructed Part)

Completing Mozart’s Requiem

Over the past 231 years since the composer’s death, several attempts were made to complete Mozart‘s Requiem in D minor. The first completion was initiated by Mozart’s widow Constanze, who approached the composer and conductor Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766 – 1803). Süssmayr (also: Süßmayr) completed the work by adding the missing movements based on Mozart’s scarce sketches, plus material that is largely his own invention. Up to the mid-20th century, Süssmayr’s completion constituted the “de facto standard” for performances of the Requiem. It probably was considered “authentic” at least insofar as it was all composed either by Mozart himself, or at least by his contemporary, Süssmayr.

Around the middle of the last century (almost certainly triggered by the movement towards historically informed performances), musicologists, composers, and musicians started objecting against deficiencies in Süssmayr’s completion. These deficiencies included not just Süssmayr’s instrumentation, but also his compositorial additions. An obvious (and literal) shortcoming are the two excessively short Osanna in Süssmayr’s version. However, there are also serious doubts whether both his instrumentation and his additions really follow Mozart’s style, his possible intentions.

There are around two dozen reconstruction / revision attempts from 1960 onwards. These range from “cosmetic” revisions in the instrumentation, to completely removing Süssmayr’s additions, on to complete recomposition of movements “in Mozart style”. One (conservative) example which I came across almost 50 years ago (when participating in a choir performance) was the revision by the musicologist Franz Beyer (1922 – 2018), which focused on instrumentation, and on moderately expanding the two Osanna choruses.

A New Completion Approach (Summary from the Introduction)

Commissioned by the Harvard Summer Chorus, the German composer and conductor Michael Ostrzyga (*1975) set out to try a new attempt to complete Mozart’s Requiem. He scrutinized not only Mozart’s choral works (masses, operas, etc.), but also all available authentic sources. He also investigated Süssmayr’s additions to see what could possibly be (close to) Mozart’s original intent. In this, he not only applied comparative studies. He also used statistical methods, e.g., how often (at most) Mozart would use a specific peak note for a given voice.

One interesting point about Ostrzyga’s completion concerns the Osanna. Michael Ostrzyga mentioned that usually, the two instances of Osanna (after the Sanctus and at the end of the Benedictus) are identical. In Süssmayr’s completion, the first Osanna is in bright D major. It has deficiencies that have long been known to musicologists. Süssmayr’s second Osanna is not only different, but in B♭ major and does not features the errors of the first instance. As Michael Ostrzyga explained, he therefore wanted to keep the second Osanna—in two instances, and as is. However, the Sanctus is in D major, which is too far from B♭ major. Therefore, Michael Ostrzyga decided to change Süssmayr’s Sanctus to D minor. We’ll see how this works!

The Reconstructed Movements
  1. Domine, Jesu Christe
  2. Hostias
  3. Sanctus — Osanna
  4. Benedictus — Osanna
  5. Agnus Dei
  6. Lux aeterna

The Performance

In the introduction, Florian Helgath stated that after Ligeti’s Lux aeterna, the second (reconstructed) part of the Requiem would sound different. Indeed, Ligeti’s a cappella piece caused a kind of “reset” in the listener’s mind, and the second part did sound different. However, the reconstructed music itself may have contributed to this. For everybody, the reconstruction has “novelty character”. It sounds similar to what we are all used to, yet is new / different in instrumentation, arrangement and composition. This alone added excitement and interest, caused people to listen differently. I’m sure the same holds true for the musicians.

IX. Domine, Jesu Christe

Without closely following a score, the music sounded very familiar, if not “almost as expected”. Of course, the performance was excellent in choir and orchestra, transparent, as well as controlled and diligent in the dynamics, clear and light in the articulation. Was it indeed the “Ligeti reset” that injected extra excitement? Or, did it cause the audience to listen more mindfully, with extra attention—who knows?

X. Hostias

Again here, for the unknowing listener: what exactly is new? Was there excitement just from the truly excellent performance in choir and orchestra (articulation, dynamics, phrasing), the beautiful sonorities of the string instruments, the gentleness and expression, the care for details in articulation and dynamics? Maybe, the performance made one realize how many details, hidden beauties in phrasing and articulation one tended to overlook in past performances? A side-by-side comparison would help in fully appreciating the work that went into this latest reconstruction.

XI. Sanctus — Osanna

Here now comes a big and evident change. After the switch to D minor and a substantial rewrite in the second part, the Sanctus appears dramatic, intense. An earnest and urging acclamation. Indeed, that’s very different! However, in the context of a Requiem mass, doesn’t that make sense? I don’t mean to say that in a Requiem, the minor key is a must. However, at the very least, it seems a very viable option.

As Michael Ostrzyga intended, the Osanna in B♭ major (essentially the second Osanna from the Süssmayr score) fits naturally to the Sanctus. It brightens up the atmosphere for the praise. Süssmayr’s Osanna usually appears with an almost abrupt ending. This is why the Beyer revision (see above) extends it by a few bars. Michael Ostrzyga’s version lives without such extension (I think). However, Florian Helgath made it end in a decrescendo and a subtle ritardando. Enough to prepare, to create expectation for the Benedictus that follows.

XII. Benedictus — Osanna

With this B♭ major ending, Michael Ostrzyga could do away with the 3-bar orchestral introduction for the Benedictus. There was a brief pause. I think the Benedictus (also in B♭ major) could even follow (almost) attacca. Both from the score, as well as from the auditive impression (checking against my memory of the piece), I noted some alterations in the movement. In general, though there was very little, if anything that indicated that this was not original Mozartian. Really only momentarily (in some modulations around the center, and maybe again towards the end) I sensed hints at what could have been Ostrzyga’s “signature”.

The Benedictus is largely carried by the solo quartet. This time, the voices appeared much more balanced, more equivalent than in the Tuba mirum. Sure, that’s also in the less demanding score. There are fewer extremes, in particular fewer challenges at the low end for bass and alto. Certainly, the singers presented a harmonious quartet, nobody ever trying to push into foreground, rather cooperating in dynamics and phrasing. Beautiful!

Michael Ostrzyga also shortened the ending of the Benedictus, creating a tighter link to the second Osanna. This instance was identical to the first one, except maybe for a slightly more affirmative ending.

XIII. Agnus Dei

The Agnus Dei acclamations: firm, bold, broad, earnest. They created an almost extreme contrast to the touchingly intense, warm and intimate Dona eis requiem interjections. The surprising modulation prior to the final sempiternam felt remarkable, new. However, this now could easily be a Mozartian surprise move—I really liked the idea!

XIV. Lux aeterna

I have little to add about this last movement. The performance was pure pleasure, from the ravishingly beautiful basset horn sounds in the first bars, to the unpretentious soprano solo, on to the dense choir polyphony in dona eis requiem. OK, momentarily, the dynamics felt a little demonstrative…

For the final fugue, Cum sanctis tuis, orchestra and choir again joined forces for an impressive soundscape, excellent in the dense and clear polyphony, and finally on to the long, standing, final chord.

Overall Rating: ★★★★

Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried
Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried

Seyfried: Libera me, for Male Choir

Composer & Work

Ignaz Xaver, Ritter von Seyfried (1776 – 1841, see the German Wikipedia for additional information) was a piano pupil of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He also studied composition with Johann Georg Albrechtsberger (1736 – 1809), and he was a prominent conductor in Vienna. 1827, in the funeral mass for Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), Mozart’s Requiem was performed. For that occasion, Ignaz von Seyfried composed a Libera me for male chorus, as a complement to the Requiem. He used themes / motifs from Mozart’s work. In the Catholic rite, the Libera me is typically performed as part of the burial ceremony.

The Performance

Florian Helgath did not lower his arms after the end of the Requiem. Rather, he (successfully) kept the tension through a pause, then had the male voices sing Seyfried’s Libera me. It’s a strictly homophonic composition, in D minor, of course, solemn, calm (except for a few ff exclamations), unpretentious (easily suited for lay choirs), devoid of harmonic extravagances. Despite the vast differences in compositorial complexity, harmonic and melodic simplicity, it felt like a suitable complement to Mozart’s Requiem. OK, I would not want to see this becoming a standard after every Requiem performance…

I certainly don’t mean to criticize the addition of Seyfried’s somewhat modest composition here. It wasn’t merely a complement to the Requiem (performed with perfect balance color, dynamics), but a transition to the evening’s final work.


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart c. 1780
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart: Ave verum corpus, K.618

Composer & Work

The concert concluded with another composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Motet in D major “Ave verum corpus“, K.618 (for more detail see the German Wikipedia). This is Mozart’s final completed vocal work, set for four-part mixed choir, strings, and organ. While writing it, the composer was simultaneously working on the Requiem, and on his last opera, The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), K.620.

I can’t resist adding some anecdotal / private information here. Among the people I know, the title of this work is sometimes paraphrased as “Ave warum?” (German for “Ave why?”). This reflects on the fact that Mozart’s K.618 is regarded as technically not very demanding, and hence is popular in performances by lay / church choirs. Therefore, it may feel overused.

The Performance

Florian Helgath again did not lower his arms after Seyfried’s Libera me. Rather, after a few seconds, he continued on to the Ave verum corpus.

Ah, what a contrast to the piece’s somewhat doubtful reputation! Not the suspected earworm, but a real masterwork in a highly subtle, refined performance, devoid of excess sweetness, but truly touching in its intimate simplicity. A performance showing devotion, intensity, and vocal culture at the highest level, up to the ending in ppp and below.

I’m ever so glad the performance effectively corrected the above impression / prejudice. To me, this was a highlight of the entire performance!



A concert that was very much worth attending. Exceptional quality of the performance, a novel (and compelling) approach towards completing Mozart’s unfinished work, and masterful programming. The splendid idea of using Ligeti’s fascinating Lux aeterna as pivot between the original part of Mozart’s Requiem and Michael Ostrzyga’s excellent completion of the unfinished part. And: I’m tempted to say that the performance of Mozart’s Ave verum corpus—both highly artful, as well as touching—was the crowning of the concert!


The author would like to express his gratitude to the Zürcher Sing-Akademie for the press tickets to this concert.

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