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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem [56:07]
Sheila Armstrong (soprano); Janet Baker (mezzo); Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)
John Alldis Choir; English Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, July 1971
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Te Deum [22:54]
Anne Pashley (soprano); Birgit Finnilä (mezzo); Robert Tear (tenor); Don Garrard (bass)
New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Daniel Barenboim
rec. All Saints Church, Tooting, January 1969
EMI CLASSICS 433 2932 [79:09]

Confessions first: it was through this recording that I first got to know Mozart’s Requiem as a teenager in the 1990s. I loved it then and I still love it now. It’s perfectly possible that I come to it now with slightly rose-tinted spectacles, but I doubt it.
 
Barenboim’s vision makes few nods to period practice - he uses an orchestra or modern instruments, albeit on a chamber scale - but he argues an utterly convincing case for the work played like this. He has an impeccable view for architecture - listen to the way the Introitus seems to creep into existence and then build in momentum up until the Kyrie. His perspective on the climaxes is hair-raising: the Dies Irae and Confutatis will, as they say, put hairs on your chest the way I’ve heard few other recordings do. True, Quam olim Abrahae wallows a little too much, but the gentle tenderness with which he shapes the Hostias makes up for this, and the gleaming clarity of the Sanctus is thrilling.
 
The quartet of soloists is superb, as much for their heartfelt identification with the text as for the musical sound they make. Sheila Armstrong’s sound is heartfelt and mature, if not especially pure, and Janet Baker has a pleading element to her voice that is most winning. Nicolai Gedda was at his peak when this was recorded, and the voice sounds as clear and pingy as anything he has done. True, Fischer-Dieskau is ever-so-slightly over-parted in the Tuba Mirum - the low tessitura doesn’t suit him - but even here his identification with the spirit of the text is utterly complete. The movements where they come together as a quartet are superb, the Recordare even more so than that Tuba Mirum.
 
The singing of the John Alldis Choir has a commitment and urgency to it throughout, even if their attack in the Confutatis could be more energetic. The playing of the ECO is never less than magisterial. They revel in the energy of the sound they are making, and not once did I think that the scale of the playing was wrong. Their muscularity works brilliantly, and they play out of their skins for Barenboim, embracing the neo-Baroque elements of Mozart’s score, such as the angular contrapuntalism of the Rex tremendae and the Sanctus. They are helped by a brilliant recording that sounds as good now as ever it did - the re-mastering is from 2008 - allowing the climaxes to blaze while giving space to open up the inner textures. You always retain a special affection for a first recording of a work you know well, but even bearing this in mind, I have never understood why this recording is so often overlooked in surveys of Mozart’s Requiem on disc. If you want modern instruments, then I would put it up there with Davis’ recent LSO recording, or even Peter Schreier’s Dresden disc.
 
The coupling of Bruckner’s Te Deum is much more successful than the rather stodgy Barbirolli Verdi Requiem with which the Mozart was coupled when I first came across it. This was, in fact, Barenboim’s very first Bruckner recording, and the sense of fire and scale that would characterise his later readings of the symphonies is already apparent here. The singing and playing is, if anything, even more “together” than it is in the Mozart, and the climaxes are mightily imposing. Even more impressive, however, are the quieter sections, such as the Te ergo quaesumus, which move with an inner spiritual direction that stands in focused contrast to the grand sections on either side.
 
Simon Thompson 

 

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