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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem K626 (1791)
200th Anniversary Performance Commemorating Mozart’s Death (version by J. Eybler, F. J. Freystädtler and F. X. Süssmayr in a new edition by H. C. Robbins Landon).
Arleen Auger (soprano); Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo); Vinson Cole (tenor); René Pape (bass); Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor; Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir Georg Solti.
Includes service readings and film, ‘The Story of the Requiem’ [7’00]. Directors: Humphrey Burton (music); Michael Weinmann (Liturgy). Audio Producer: Christopher Raeburn.
Aspect Ratio 4:3. Region Code NTSC 123456.
Text and translation included.
Rec. St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, on December 6th, 1991.
DECCA 071 139-9 [93’00; Requiem 57’00]


Maybe it is the thought of Sir Georg at the helm of Mozart’s Requiem that draws you to this performance, or maybe the star of La Bartoli shines brightest. In either case, you may be surprised that the real star of this account is Arleen Auger, no longer in the first flush of youth but sounding absolutely resplendent. Pure of tone, accurate of pitch and superb in her phrasing, she radiates peace, joy and intensity.

The setting is indeed grand. St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna was the ideal place to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death. And how fascinating to watch Sir Georg, here an old man. Yet all the characteristics remain. The highly-strung nervousness he exuded, in tandem with that excited, beady eye, some amazing facial expressions (his facial distortion at the delicate ‘Salva me’ entrance is worth the price of the DVD alone!) and the jerky gestures are all there, guiding, coaxing, admonishing. This is Solti’s Requiem, of that there is no doubt. That energy was still all there. This performance was available on CD (433 688-2)

As so often with DVDs, the actual accompanying documentation is sparse. Admittedly the essay is by H. C. Robbins Landon, but it is brief and general, not even mentioning his edition, what he has contributed and how he has carved his musicological place in proceedings. There is a separate, tiny ‘A note on the edition’ that states that Robbins Landon’s version is ‘based on Mozart’s unfinished autograph and the additions by his three pupils Joseph Eybler, Franz Xaver Süssmayr and F. J. Freystädtler’. And that’s it.

Good that there is the choice of hearing just the Requiem, or including the various readings. For those of us with more of a musical than liturgical bent (a condition due to advanced agnosticism), the readings are a dubious bonus (once is enough). But certainly the sense of occasion is there, and palpable.

From the start (‘Kyrie’), it is obvious this is a large-scale Requiem, complete with bass-dominated chorus. The opportunity to watch Sir Georg’s stick technique is instructive, too, for he was a master - just watch how clear he is, even when his beat is minuscule in piano. Auger’s ‘Te decet hymnus’ is resplendent, and yet full of musical power.

Of course the ‘Dies irae’ is massive (as is the ‘Rex tremendae’). A big gap before the ‘Tuba mirum’ heightens the effect of René Pape’s entrance, large of voice (not huge, though). Nice camera work, too, with the angle taking in both Pape and the other soloist, the trombone, who plays standing up.

The tenor entrance at ‘Mors stupebit’ must be one of the most gratifying in the entire repertoire. And Vincon Cole enjoys it to the full. Bartoli (clad in sparkling black) provides a large-toned entry, contrasting with Auger’s marvellously sweet tone. Bartoli is wonderful throughout, too - try her part in the Benedictus.

The grand finale is greeted in silence (just shots of the cathedral). Quite apt, with bells tolling under the credits.

Detail throughout is miraculous, especially given the size of the forces (try the ‘sighing’ violin phrasing in the ‘Lachrymosa’, for example). The choir sing magnificently for Solti. How marvellous to see the massed sopranos’ eyes glued upon Sir Georg.

The brief film (‘Story of the Requiem’) is a dramatisation of the mysterious stranger’s commission, with ‘Mozart’ in shadow. Interesting enough for a one-off viewing.

Thoroughly recommended.

Colin Clarke


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