This is a pleasant,
and unobjectionable account of the Requiem, but one needs more
than that to make a performance of this fascinating work truly
memorable and special.
Choosing a recording
of the Requiem nowadays is becoming almost as complicated as
ordering a sandwich and a coffee in some of the more pretentious
coffee shops that have sprung up in recent years. There are
just as many questions to answer. Would you like your Requiem
prepared by Süssmayr? Or by Richard Maunder or Robbins Landon?
Or perhaps by Robert Levin, Franz Beyer or Duncan Druce? Would
you like period-instruments with your Requiem, or would you
prefer modern ones? How big an orchestra/choir would you like?
What is served up
on this new Naxos recording is the completion by Sussmayr, sung
by a small choir and played by a small orchestra on modern instruments
but performed in a fashion which shows an awareness of the examples
provided by the authentic movement. There’s evidence of this
in its employment of rapid tempos - perhaps just a bit too rapid
in places, such as the Tuba mirum - and crisp rhythms,
and the limited use of vibrato.
has honesty and intimacy, but lacks the spirituality and gravitas
- which is not just a matter of numbers - that one finds in
the very best performances. The choral singing is generally
good, the orchestral playing nimble, the winds and brass particularly
effective. The soloists work well together, and though none
of them are especially striking or memorable when their turn
in the limelight comes round, they acquit themselves quite successfully.
For all of this,
this performance leaves me relatively unmoved, sends few shivers
down the spine. It is music-making of considerable competence
but, to my ears at least, it lacks real fire, magic, inspiration
or whatever term one uses for that indefinable quality which
transcends even the highest degree of competence.
The Requiem is prefaced
by good performances of two of Mozart’s shorter liturgical works,
one (K 72) written in Salzburg, the other (K 222) in Munich.
The later of these deserves to be better known than it is. It
was praised by Giovanni Battista Martini, the Franciscan composer
with whom the young Mozart had become acquainted in Bologna.
Martini, in a letter written in December 1776 found in Misericordias
Domini “all that is required by Modern Music; good harmony,
mature modulation, a moderate pace in the violins, a natural
connexion of the parts and good taste”. He was right. And we,
with the advantage of hindsight, can hear in its dramatic pages
anticipations of the even finer music Mozart would go on to
This Naxos issue
has good notes by Keith Anderson and full texts and translations.
It was an especially good idea to include in the track-listings
a clear indication of the contributions made by Mozart and Sussmayr
to each movement.
see also Reviews
by Robert Hugill and Göran