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Mozart: Requiem & JC Bach: Introitus and Kyrie

Marie-Noėlle de Callata˙, sopranoa; Annette Markert, contraltob; Robert Getchell, tenorc; Peter Harvey, bassd
Choir and Orchestra of the Netherlands Bach Societye
Dir: Jos van Veldhoven

rec: Oct 2001, Tilburg, Concerthall (live recording)
Channel Classics - CCS SA 18102 (54'21")

JC Bach: Introitus and Kyriee; WA Mozart: Requiem in d minor (KV 626) (version Süßmayr/Flothuis)abcde

One of the causes of the problems of the recording industry is the fact that some compositions, generally considered 'masterworks', are recorded over and over again. After some time almost everyone has at least one recording of those particular works. Mozarts Requiem is one of these 'masterworks'. But, is it really better than other works, in particular religious works, by Mozart? Is its popularity caused by its quality or by the myths surrounding it, which still speak to the imagination of the audiences?
Every year this work is recorded several times. But in this particular case, there is a strong argument in favour of new recordings - dependent on the performing edition used. As everyone knows Mozart left his Requiem unfinished. It has been completed by Franz Xaver Süßmayr, who was one of Mozart's students. But there has always been unease about the way Süssmayr completed the work. Several attempts have been made to create alternative versions. Although the Süßmayr version is still the most performed and recorded, there are several recordings with alternative versions.
This recording by the Choir and Orchestra of the Netherlands Bach Society gives a version, which hasn't been recorded before. That is the main plus of this release.
This version was made by the eminent Dutch Mozart scholar Marius Flothuis (1914 - 2001). His attempts to create a more satisfying, more 'Mozartean' version go back to the 1940's, when Eduard ven Beinum, conductor of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, wanted to perform the Requiem during the commemorative year 1941. Since 1937 Flothuis was assistent artistic director of the orchestra, and as he had published about Mozart it was only logical to ask him to prepare an alternative version. The main tasks he set himself were the rewriting of the trombone parts and finding a solution for the repetition of the Osanna.
In the booklet Marius Flothuis gives an overview of his alterations of the Süßmayr version. He makes clear how the historical performance practice has even influenced the results of his edition. Originally Flothuis had removed all 'automatic' doublings of the vocal lines by the trombones. But the conductor, Jos van Veldhoven, wanted to remain closer to 18th century traditions, which meant that the trombones are doubling the vocal lines in some movements. That this doesn't lead to unsatisfying results - as the recording demonstrates - is mainly due to the use of period trombones, which are more able to play fast passages than their modern counterparts. I also would think that their softer sound makes them more suitable to play 'colla parte' than modern trombones.
The main differences with the Süßmayr version are the removal of the trumpet parts from the Sanctus and the transposition of the Osanna in the Benedictus. In Süßmayrs version it is in B flat, like the Benedictus, but in all other works Mozart uses the same tonality for the repeat of the Osanna as in the Sanctus (here D major). Therefore Flothuis has inserted two additional measures between the Benedictus and the Osanna, which gives the opportunity of a transposition from B flat to D major.
I think these changes are a real improvement. In particular the removal of the trumpet parts in the Benedictus is a great plus: the piece gets a much 'softer' character which is very appropriate in my view.

Unfortunately the actual performance isn't very statisfying. Generally speaking I find the performance a little lacklustre. There is a lack of contrast within some movements, in particular the 'Dies irae', for example between 'Rex tremendae majestatis' and 'salve me' or between 'Confutatis maledictis' and 'voca me cum benedictis'. The amount of drama and tension is too scarce.
I'm not very positive about the soloists either. The continuous vibrato of the soprano is pretty annoying and the voices don't blend very well. Just compare the dark timbre of the contralto with the very clear timbre of the tenor. And Peter Harvey has never been able to convince me of his qualities, I'm afraid. The quality of choir and orchestra are indisputable, but that isn't enough to make this a top class performance.
As an addition two movements from a planned Requiem by Johann Christian Bach have been added. From a programmatic point of view that is not very logical. Sure, the youngest son of JS Bach had a tremendous influence on Mozart, but that was mainly in the field of instrumental music. The interesting thing about this Requiem, which Johann Christian never finished, is the difference between the extant sections: the two recorded here, Introitus and Kyrie, both written in the 'stile antico' (certainly composed under the influence of 'Padre' Giovanni Battista Martini, who was a great advocate of polyphony), and the Dies irae, which Johann Christian has written in the 'stile moderno' for 4 solo voices, double choir and orchestra. But since the Dies irae isn't recorded here, the image of a composer living in two different worlds is lost here. Both movements are performed very well, in fact a lot better than the Mozart Requiem, which suggests to me that both conductor and choir feel much more at home in the 'stile antico' of the 'old wig', as father Bach was referred to by his other son, Carl Philipp Emanuel, than in the classical style of Mozart.

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

Relevant links:

Netherlands Bach Society

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