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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791): Requiem in d minor (KV 626)

[I] Requiem
Joanne Lunn, soprano; Rowan Hellier, contralto; Thomas Hobbs, tenor; Matthew Brook, bass
Dunedin Consort
Dir: John Butt
rec: Sept 15 - 19, 2013, Edinburgh, Greyfriars' Kirk
Linn Records - CKD 449 ( 2014) (61'41")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

[II] "Requiem Realisations"
Elin Manahan Thomas, soprano; Christine Rice, contralto; James Gilchrist, tenor; Christopher Purves, bass
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge; Academy of Ancient Music
Dir: Stephen Cleobury
rec: June 26 - 27 & Sept 27, 2011, Cambridge, King's College (chapel)
King's College Choir - KGS0002 (2 CDs) ( 2013) (62'17" / 66'31")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

[III] Requiem
Jonty Ward, soprano; James Swash, alto; Guy Cutting, tenor; Jonathan Howard, bass
Choir of New College Oxford; Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Dir: Edward Higginbottom
rec: July 5, 12 & 13, 2010, Oxford, Church of St Michael and All Angels, Summertown
Novum - NCR1383 ( 2011) (48'46")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list

[IV] "Requiem & Clarinet Concerto"
Lucy Hall, soprano; Anglique Noldus, contralto; Hui Jin, tenor; Josef Wagner, bass; Benjamin Dieltjens, basset clarinet
Choeur de Chambre de Namur; New Century Baroque
Dir: Leonardo Garca-Alarcn
rec: April 22 - 26, 2012, Jujurieux (Ain), Espace culturel C.J. Bonneta; Sept 28 - Oct 2, 2012, Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain), Salle des ftesb
Ambronay - AMY038 ( 2013) (65'40")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E/F
Cover & track-list

Score

Concerto for clarinet and orchestra in A (KV 622)a [IV]; Misericordias Domini in d minor (KV 222) [I]; Requiem in d minor (KV 626)b

Mozart's Requiem in d minor is one of the most frequently-performed compositions in music history. It is also the subject of much debate and research as the composer left it unfinished when he died in December 1791. Setting aside the myths which have been woven around this work and the reasons Mozart wrote it, it is especially the way his pupil Smayr finished the score which has been a matter of debate. Most scholars and interpreters feel that his contributions are rather below the standard of Mozart's own work, and several attempts have been made to create alternatives for the parts Mozart did not compose himself. Some 'reconstructions' are quite radical, others are more moderate, dependent on the view of Smayr's work. One of the aspects about which scholars have different views is to what extent Smayr's completion is based on material from Mozart's pen.

There has been a time that many performances were based on one of these reconstructions, for instance by Franz Beyer, Richard Maunder or Robert Levin. However, I have the impression that today most performers seem to return to Smayr. After all, the reconstructions are all from our time, and Smayr is probably as close to Mozart as we can get. From a historical perspective the recordings by John Butt and Stephen Cleobury are particularly interesting. Both perform the Requiem in the edition by Smayr. Butt attempts to reconstruct the first performance in 1793, after Smayr had added the missing parts. His performance is based on a new edition of his version by David Ian Black who removed some later 'improvements'. Even more interesting is the line-up of this performance.

The performance in 1793 was part of a benefit concert for Mozart's widow, Constanze, which was organized by his long-time patron, Baron Gottfied van Swieten. The performance was given by the Gesellschaft der Associierten Cavaliere, which in previous years had also been responsible for the performances of Mozart's arrangements of vocal works by Handel. Therefore Butt assumes that the forces with which they performed the Requiem were about the same as those in these Handel arrangements. He opted for a choir of sixteen voices, four of which sing the solo parts. This results in a strong coherence between soli and tutti. Butt states that this kind of line-up was common practice in the 17th and 18th centuries. Setting aside the number of singers involved it is certainly true that sacred music was usually not scored for soloists, choir and orchestra, but rather for a vocal and instrumental ensemble. There is not only a unity between soli and tutti, but also between the soloists. That comes especially to the fore in the 'Tuba mirum', but less so in the Benedictus, due to the slight vibrato of Rowan Hellier. There is also some vibrato now and then in the tutti, especially in the Kyrie. However, these are only minor blots on a generally very impressive performance which has certainly some dramatic traits, but - thanks to the relatively small forces - is rather intimate, which suits this piece quite well. Butt believes that there was probably no organ at the performance of 1793 and therefore makes use of a fortepiano. Unfortunately it is hardly audible.

Butt also refers to a performance just five days after Mozart's death. It is not possible to know exactly which parts were performed, but certainly not the version by Smayr as he had not completed the missing parts yet. Butt performs only the Requiem aeternam and the Kyrie, in a line-up which is probably identical with that of the 1791 performance: four voices for the solo parts with four ripieno singers, single strings and lesser wind. From that time also dates Misericordias Domini (KV 222) which is performed here with the same forces.

The recording by Stephen Cleobury is interesting in a different way. After the complete Requiem in the version of Smayr, several sections in reconstructions by Franz Beyer, Richard Maunder, Robert Levin, Duncan Druce and Michael Finnissey are performed. The latter's version of the 'Lacrimosa' - the closing section of the Sequentia - is the most radical deviation of the Mozart/Smayr version. The Benedictus in the reconstruction by Duncan Druce is also unusual, especially because of the Osanna which is in D major rather than B flat, as in Smayr's version. The second disc includes a documentary about the Requiem. Its three chapters are entitled: Mozart in 1791 and the commissioning of the Requiem, The Composition of the Requiem, Reception. This is all in English, and therefore not very suitable for those who don't understand English well enough to follow the argument.

It is a shame that the performances are less than impressive. The combination of adult soloists with a choir of boys and men is always a bit of a problem, but especially here, as the choir largely avoids vibrato and the soloists use it in abundance. Christopher Purves is the most sparing in this department. Problematic is the balance: the trebles have sometimes too little presence, and so has Elin Manahan Thomas. The singing of the choir and in particular the trebles is such that there is more sound than text, especially when the trebles sing forte in the upper range of their voices. The articulation of the tutti episodes is not sharp enough, and dynamically these performances are rather flat. It results in a not very dramatic and contrasting interpretation.

The recording with the Choir of New College Oxford is not very dramatic either. However, that seems deliberate: I have the impression that Edward Higginbottom has opted for a more intimate approach. In this respect his performance is rather close to Butt's. He also offers the Requiem in the Smayr version, and as in the recording by the Dunedin Consort the soloist are members of the choir. The voices of Jonty Ward, James Swash, Guy Cutting and Jonathan Howard blend perfectly and fully integrate into the ensemble. The approach of Higginbottom is consistently worked out, and even if some listeners may need time to get used to it the result is largely convincing. Even so, in some parts I would have liked a more extraverted interpretation. The 'Tuba mirum' is especially disappointing, as Jonathan Howard has too little presence. The other soloists make a better impression, and especially the performances of the two boys is admirable. Choir and orchestra act at a high level. If you like a performance by all-male voices, this is a very good proposition.

Leonardo Garca-Alarcn takes the Mozart/Smayr version as his starting point. It is performed up to and including the Lacrimosa. This is followed by the 'Amen' setting by Richard Maunder which Cleobury also included as an appendix. It may seem a little odd that the closing 'Amen' by Smayr - not more than a chordal conclusion - is followed by an independent 'Amen' setting in the form of a fugue but that was quite common in the Italian baroque period. As Mozart's writing of sacred music is clearly influenced by the Italian style - and Padre Martini's teachings in counterpoint - this could well be justified. For the settings of 'Domine Jesu Christe' and 'Hostias' Garca-Alarcn turned to the version by Franz Beyer. Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei are completely omitted, and the concluding Communio - consisting of 'Lux aeterna' and 'Cum sanctis tuis' - are from Beyer's version again.

The performance is the most dramatic of those reviewed here. The dynamic contrasts are considerable, such as in the Introitus and in 'Rex tremendae majestatis'. That certainly has its attractions and is a legitimate option. Unfortunately it is dramatic in a too traditional way. The soloists, and especially soprano and contralto, use too much vibrato (Tuba mirum) and their voices don't blend very well, for instance in 'Recordare Jesu pie'. The coherence between soli and tutti which belongs to the virtues of the recordings of Butt and Higginbottom is absent here. The Choeur de Chambre de Namur is an excellent ensemble, but here I find the singing lacking subtlety. The same goes for the playing of the orchestra.

The omission of Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei leaves enough space to add the Concerto for clarinet in A which dates from the same year as the Requiem. It receieves a good performance by Benjamin Dieltjens. However, there are various good recordings on the market in which this concerto is played on the basset clarinet. I don't think this performance is an essential addition to the catalogue. As a whole this production won't make it to the upper echelons of the discography.

John Butt is the only of the four conductors who opted for the German pornunciation of Latin. That seems historically correct, and I wonder whether any of the other coductors has given this subject any thought.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

Relevant links:

Lucy Hall
Anglique Noldus
Choeur de Chambre de Namur
Choir of King's College, Cambridge
Choir of New College Oxford
Dunedin Consort
New Century Baroque
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment


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