musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Franz Xaver RICHTER (1709 -1789): Requiem

Czech Ensemble Baroque Orchestra & Choir
Dir: Roman Válek

rec: Oct 10 - 12, 2014, Znojmo, [St. Michael's Church]
Supraphon - SU 4177-2 (© 2014) (64'04")
Liner-notes: E/D/F/Cz; lyrics - translations: E/D/F/Cz
Cover & track-list

De profundis clamavi a 12 vocia; Messa da Requiem a 16 voci in E flatb; Sinfonia con fuga in g minor (Boer 29)

soliab: Lenka Cafourková Duricová, soprano; Markéta Cukrová, contralto; Romain Champion,tenor; Jirí Miroslav Procházka, bass

Franz Xaver Richter is one of those composers from the second half of the 18th century who have remained in the shadow of the masters. He is considered a representative of the Mannheim school, but the full amount of his activities as a composer is hardly known. He is not that well represented on disc, and then almost exclusively with orchestral and chamber music. The largest part of his output in these genres dates from his years in Mannheim. However, his oeuvre includes a large number of sacred works. In Mannheim he composed some oratorios, but most of his sacred works, and especially liturgical compositions were written in Strasbourg where he was maître de chapelle at the Cathedral from 1769 until his death in 1789.

There was something special about the city: for a long time it was part of Germany, and under the influence of Protestantism. Only in 1681 was it unified with France, and the Cathedral reverted to Catholicism. This could well explain the ideal working conditions Richter enjoyed. The annual budget amounted no less than 300,000 pounds. That was a way to strengthen the ties between the city and the King of France. The church's chapel was made up of 17 singers and 28 instrumentalists, and was the second largest in France. Richter had a considerable influence on musical practice in the Cathedral. Until his arrival it was mostly French music which was on the repertoire. Richter started to perform music from Vienna and Italy and compositions by his former colleagues in Mannheim. He adapted such works to the conditions in Strasbourg.

The programme of this disc has a strong amount of coherence. The main work is the Messa de Requiem which dates from the year of his death. It has been suggested that he composed it for his own funeral, but whether that is a matter of fact or a piece of mythology is hard to say. Even so, Jana Spácilová, in her liner-notes, states that "when looking at the clean copy of the autograph score we cannot resist the idea that it encapsulates the quintessence of his legacy". Earlier she pointed out that Richter's music is a mixture of tradition and renewal. On the one hand he incorporates elements of Neapolitan opera - two soprano arias in this work attest to that - and the innovations of the Mannheim school, on the other hand he makes extensive use of counterpoint, more than was common among his peers. His interest in counterpoint comes also to the fore in his treatise Harmonische Belehrungen which dates from the 1760s. Another notable feature of the Requiem is that the scoring includes two parts for viola, another bow to a tradition which goes back to the 17th century.

The Messa de Requiem opens with an acclamation of "Requiem" by the choir a capella, followed by fanfare motifs by the trumpets which seem to refer to the local habit of blowing fanfares prior to the masses at the Cathedral. The trumpets play a prominent role again in - as one would expect - the "tuba mirum" from the Dies Irae. This is a solo for bass - again hardly a surprise. There is quite some text expression in this work; the tutti passage on the text "Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis" is just one example. There is a wonderful fluency on the closing words of this section: "Dona eis requiem. Amen". Richter's fondness of counterpoint is exposed in several fugal episodes, such as the ending of the Offertorio, "quam olim Abrahae promisisti et semini eius".

The Requiem Mass is preceded by a setting of Psalm 129 (130), De profundis. This was the result of a commission of the Cathedral canonry for the funeral masses of Cardinal Louis Constantin de Rohan who died in March 1779. However, the work received its first performance some months before the ceremonies in homage to the Cardinal, at the funeral of the Cathedral's organist Johann Georg Rauch. The second section (Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine) is a kind of dialogue between the solo voices and the tutti. The fourth (Quia apud Dominum) includes some notable harmonic progressions. The piece ends with the opening text of the Requiem.

The disc opens with an orchestral work, the Sinfonia con fuga in g minor. It is a remarkable piece and quite different from the symphonies, although it was written in Mannheim, presumably in the 1760s. The title is another token of Richter's love of counterpoint; the fugue which has a chromatic subject takes the largest part of the opening movement, with the indication adagio. It opens with a slowly rising figure, comprising of sequences of repeated notes, played piano. This opening section is dominated by Seufzer. Jana Spácilová believes it should be considered a 'church sinfonia'. The character of this work, the chromatic fugue and the key of g minor makes it fit into this programme of funeral music.

This disc presents music which is hardly known. The two vocal items were recorded for the first time on period instruments. If unfamiliar repertoire is performed it is important that it is done justice by the interpreters. Only then music-lovers can be convinced that it is music well worth exploring. That is certainly the case here. This is a first-class performance, with excellent soloists and an outstanding choir and orchestra. Lenka Cafourková Duricová gives wonderful interpretations of the two soprano arias. She rightly includes cadenzas, but they are rather short, in line with the character of the Requiem. This recording is an excellent case for Richter and especially his Messa de Requiem. Nothing against Mozart's Requiem but we have more recordings of that work than we can possibly listen to. Richter's Requiem is well worth becoming part of the standard repertoire of sacred music of the classical era.

Hopefully this disc will be enthusiastically received by the music-loving community. The composer and the interpreters fully deserve it.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Czech Ensemble Baroque

CD Reviews