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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mass in C minor, K427 (1783)
Requiem, K626 (1791)
Soloists in Mass: Edith Wiens, Dame Felicity Lott (sopranos I and II), Laurence Dale (tenor), Robert Lloyd (bass)
Soloists in Requiem: Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Della Jones (mezzo-soprano), Keith Lewis (tenor), Willard White (bass)
London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
Recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, 4-6 February 1987, and St.Augustine’s, Kilburn, 10-12 April 1989.
EMI CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 7243 5 75770 2 1 [2CDs: 56:25+49:45]

Franz Welser-Möst’s period as conductor of the LPO was widely regarded as a mixed blessing. However, much of the criticism levelled at him at the time was unfair, not to say a little stupid. That he is a conductor of real flair and talent there is little doubt, and this two-disc set is testimony to that. These are not by any stretch of the imagination ‘period’ performances, for they use a large orchestra playing modern instruments, and a big, full-throated chorus – the London Philharmonic Choir on top form. Certainly not to everyone’s taste, then; but of their kind, they are well worth hearing.

The coupling of Mozart’s two greatest torsos seems an obvious one, and I was a little surprised to discover that there didn’t seem to be another one in the current catalogue (unless, of course, you know different….!). Of the two, the C minor is probably the more convincing in the form it has come down to us. The booklet note discusses briefly but lucidly the mystery surrounding the work’s incompleteness, which is too complex to go into here. Suffice it to say that the Robbins Landon edition used here is strict in confining itself to nothing more than those sections which exists in the autograph, namely the opening Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo up to the Et incarnatus, concluding with the Sanctus, Benedictus and Osannas.

It is an overwhelmingly powerful utterance, and represents a staggering achievement for a 27 year-old. This performance gives it the full works, the opening Kyrie very slow but darkly dramatic, its chromatic complexities drawn out to superb effect. The one serious weakness in the casting of the otherwise very fine soloists is the soprano I, Edith Wiens. Despite her sweet tone, she is too self-indulgent. Listen to the rising triplets, track 1 after 3:23, for example. Needless to say, Mozart asks for no fluctuation in the tempo at all, let alone this sort of huge rubato. Unfortunately, here and in the exquisite Et incarnatus, Welser-Möst indulges her, and allows the already steady tempo to drag almost to a halt in places.

The Gloria concludes with a long-note fugue that is like a large-scale version of the finale of the Jupiter Symphony. It builds to a majestic peroration, with the resplendent announcement by the tenors of the inversion of the fugue subject a memorable moment. Throughout, the performance, though far from subtle, captures the imagination and energy of this tantalisingly great work.

Meanwhile, in the Requiem, Felicity Lott gives an object lesson in Mozart singing - flexible and expressive, yet also disciplined and restrained where appropriate. Welser-Möst uses the edition by Franz Beyer, made in 1971. In effect, it’s not all that different from the Süssmayer, which remains in essence the version many choirs use even today. But it does have numerous differences in details of scoring, as well as some subtle additions in the later stages of the work, e.g. the conclusion of the two Osanna sections.

The finest music is in the first two movements, the Requiem aeternam and the Dies irae, and I have to say Welser-Möst and his forces are riveting in the big choral/orchestral sections. The opening brings wonderful phrasing from solo bassoon, with the lugubrious sounds of basset horns and alto trombone colouring the music to wonderful effect, all excellently captured by the spacious yet clear recording. The beginning of the Dies irae has never sounded more dramatic, and the upper soloists in the Tuba mirum characterise their music well, though Willard White doesn’t to me sound entirely at home in this music; compared to Robert Lloyd in the C minor Mass; he seems to find the breathing problematic, and worries at the music somewhat. Great singer, but odd choice.

Odd how the human memory works; as the Recordare began, I found myself recalling the beginning Part 2 of Gerontius; on the surface, there’s not much in common other than the key. Yet Mozart here has that sense of effortlessly light movement that Elgar wished to express, and the performers capture perfectly the serenity of this sublime music. The Recordare movement, though deeply felt, is really too slow and romantically inclined for my taste, and the tempo causes the choir, particularly the sopranos, some problems in the sustaining of controlled tone in the top register. On the other hand, the singing of the solo quartet in the Benedictus is a real joy. Willard White certainly redeems himself here, with some sensitive ensemble singing.

As I say, not to everyone’s taste; you’ll either fall for these whole-hearted, large-scale performances, or you’ll hate them; I fell!

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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