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
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
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.