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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)

Requiem in d, K 626 (1791) (52.25)
(Mozart’s manuscript edited and elaborated by Robert D. Levin, 1991)
Karina Gauvin, soprano; Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto
John Tessier, tenor; Nathan Berg, bass baritone
Alain Trudel, trombone
La Chappelle de Québec; Les violons du Roi/Bernard Labadie
Recorded at Troy, New York, USA, September 2001
Playable on all CD players, Microsoft® HDCD®format provides high resolution playback on specially equipped CD players and Windows Media Player 9.
Notes in English and French. Essay by Robert Levin describing his revisions.
DORIAN DOR 90310 [52.53]

 

When a great composer dies leaving a final work unfinished, sometimes the work is completed by his students or friends and enters the repertoire with barely a ripple of comment. Bartók’s Viola Concerto, Borodin’s Prince Igor, Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto and Prokofiev’s cello sonata are examples. Sometimes the work remains uncompleted and the subject of years of discussion, even controversy, before, eventually, someone is able to produce a satisfactory completion. Bach’s Kunst der Fuge, Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, Berg’s Lulu, and Elgar’s Third Symphony come to mind. In some cases the work is published complete and only many years later are questions raised. In this latter category lie Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann and the Mozart Requiem.

At the time of his death, Mozart had written out the vocal parts and accompanying bass part of 10 of the work’s 14 sections and the first 8 bars of the Lacrymosa. The familiar version of this magnificent work was produced for Constanze Mozart by three of Mozart’s students—Freystätdler, Eybler, and Süssmayer—and delivered in satisfaction of the commission with a forged signature on the colluded manuscript. Besides filling out the orchestration of the entire work, Süssmayer is credited with composing anew the Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Osanna and Lux Æterna. It was actually 1823 before serious questions were raised as to just how much Mozart may have had had to do with it.

The fundamental problem is that this is exceptional music and Süssmayer was an uninspired and unskilled composer, so how much of his contribution to this work is based on Mozart’s lost sketches or verbal instructions? Levin argues that quite a bit of it is authentic Mozart, clumsily worked out by Süssmayer. Levin carefully works around the bits of what he sees as authentic Mozart and patches up Süssmayer’s inept extensions. The result is certainly the finest version of the work I’ve ever heard, and since it was premiered in a 1991 recording by Helmuth Rilling it has also been recorded by Martin Pearlman and now Bernard Labadie.

Throughout, the orchestral accompaniment is lighter and more supple, which allows a smaller chorus to be more forward. The additional fugues composed by Levin are beautifully done, perhaps with just the merest echo of the Mozart c-minor mass and the Bach b-minor mass. The "repairs" of Süssmayer’s work are seamless and have the effect of making the work feel more consistent and more fluent. I have sung the Süssmayer version and expected to feel the changes in my throat, but everything came off perfectly comfortably, and my wonderful memories of working on this music are intact. The occasionally recorded Maunder revision leaves out several major sections of the music, but Levin includes all the familiar music and also composes an Amen fugue (based on Mozart’s sketch) after the Lacrymosa so you get your full money’s worth here. Levin’s revised Hosanna fugue is in a single key and shortened in the reprise after the Benedictus (in the customary style of 18th century church music), and will be the other change noticeable to most listeners.

When I was in Montreal in 1997 I was privileged to attend a marvellous performance of Rossini’s opera La Cenerentola and my recollection is that many of these fine Canadian musical artists were part of that performance, so I am not surprised at the excellence of their work on this recording. Nor am I surprised that their approach is operatic and dramatic. La Chapelle de Québec is a fully professional choir and their precision and dramatic declamation in the denser choral parts is truly thrilling. This is advertised as a live recording, but there is no trace of audience sound except some discreet applause after the end. Of the many performances of this work I’ve heard and cherished, beginning with the Scherchen 1953 monophonic Ducretet-Thomson and including the Harnoncourt, Hogwood, and Solti Vienna video versions, this recording will now be my first choice.

However, with a work recorded as frequently as this, a person can pick and choose until just the perfect version is discovered. Some will prefer every note of the Süssmayer version out of familiarity, and some will prefer a more solemn, weighty, reverent, even sentimental, approach.

Paul Shoemaker



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