Surely one of the most outrageous Oscars ever given is the 1984 Academy Award for Best Sound. That year, the Academy decided to award the plaudit to Amadeus, the biographical blockbuster loosely based on the life of Mozart. Talk about moving the goalposts. How could anyone possibly compete with a soundtrack featuring several compositions from one of the most stupendous geniuses ever born? Still, taken on its own terms, the musical accompaniment to Amadeus is certainly thrilling, particularly the finale where Mozart's rival, Antonio Salieri, conspires to force the ailing composer to write one final masterpiece: his Requiem Mass.
Happily, the Fettes College Consort and Players did a decent job of imitating the drama of Amadeus' concluding sequence in St Cuthbert's Church, particularly as this was their debut. They may have been a modestly-sized choir and orchestra - with only two violins, for instance - but David Goodenough managed to get the sound to envelop the space. The choral singing was razor-sharp, each of Mozart's glorious fugues bouncing around the church as the different voices played off each other. Mozart's arrangement of the Kyrie, his double fugue bristling with almost unfathomable complexity, was hugely satisfying to listen to. The same could also be said for more serene movements. The rendition of the Lacrimosa ably demonstrated why this particular segment has enjoyed such fame for so long.
Although the larger choral movements were overall very impressive, a few of the solo sections failed to match the elegance Mozart clearly had in mind when he composed his Requiem. This is understandable given that many of the singers were students at Fettes College, and not yet professional musicians. The teenager charged with singing the tenor solos tried hard, but could not really manage some of the more challenging passages. He also seemed very nervous, a fault that can probably be forgiven considering both his age and the sizable audience that had come to watch him sing.
Still, Abigail Bolton shone as a soprano, flaunting her lovely voice during the Laudate Dominum, one of two short choral works by Mozart that preceded the night's main event. Like the recital in general, Bolton's warm voice filled the drab Edinburgh evening with an ethereal air. Despite its faults, in other words, one could leave the concert with a better appreciation of the qualities picked up by the 1984 Academy when they gave out their Oscar for Best Sound, even if their decision still doesn't seem entirely fair.