For those readers who
are of a certain age, and believe that
the only good conductor is a dead conductor,
and that Karl Böhm, Bruno Walter
and Thomas Beecham were great Mozarteans,
kindly stop here, as what is contained
in the rest of this review is certain
to offend you.
For conductors who
came of age in the first couple of decades
of the twentieth century, Mozartís music
sat firmly on the border of what was
considered standard repertoire. Oh,
sure there was the occasional Bach or
Vivaldi concerto trotted out for good
measure, but the maestros of this generation
made the music of the nineteenth century
their stock-in-trade, making Schubert
the closest thing to "early music"
that they ever touched.
Thus it is with this
recording of Mozartís majestic but unfinished
Requiem mass, conducted here by the
late Karl Böhm and enhanced by
a star-studded roster of soloists, all
very fine save one.
The cover blurb reads
as follows: "Here is the historic
1971 Vienna concert of Mozartís most
popular final work (I didnít know he
wrote more than one final work to which
to compare this one for popularity ...)
Ė a monumental drama of the end of time
- conducted by the legendary Karl Böhm,
one of the twentieth centuryís most
outstanding Mozart conductors."
Then we move on to
the program notes, which spend a great
deal of time extolling the virtues of
the maestro, and tell us next to nothing
about the music or its origins. I do
believe that it is high time that we
dispelled the myth that figures such
as Böhm were great interpreters
of the music of the classical period.
Perhaps in 1971, before we had the likes
of John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington,
even Sir Charles Mackerras, these men
might have been the best available Mozart
conductors. But much time has passed,
much has changed in the realm of performance
practice, and a great deal of improvement
has been made in the area of choral
tone and technique.
Let us now summarize
the things that are wrong with this
performance. First, Böhmís tempi
are funereally slow, no pun intended.
Second, the chorus of the Vienna Staatsoper
knows only one volume, loud, and only
one tone color, ugly. There is never
an attempt to blend or to create a unified
tone. All this choir can do is attempt
to out-shout one another, and the result
is hideous. Never does a line grow in
the form of an arch. Never is there
a dynamic that is much below forte.
Contrapuntal passages such as the wonderful
Kyrie eleison fugue are obliterated
in a raucous bellowing contest with
florid passages barked instead of sung.
And O, the turgid tempi. At those speeds,
it would take a fortnight to get the
coffin from the church to the grave
The soloists, as aforementioned,
are certainly fine, with Gundula Janowitz,
Christa Ludwig and Walter Berry producing
some splendid, if not unstylistic sounds.
As for Peter Schreier, well that poor
man has never produced a free and open
tone in his life, and he didnít take
the noose from round his neck for this
concert either. Being that he was young
at the time of this recording, his singing
is a bit better than it usually is these
days, but it is still a constricted,
over-bright and nasal tone.
The orchestra is thick and ponderous
and they saw and blare away as if they
were in the heat of a Wagnerian battle.
In a word, these kinds
of performances of music pre-1800 are
history, and thatís where they should
remain. There is nothing even nostalgic
about listening to an hour of such bellicose
caterwauling. Consign these things to
the dust-bin of history where they belong,
and let us enjoy the music as Mozart
intended it to be played; with grace,
elegance and élan, not like a
passing motorcade of earthmoving equipment.
Bag this one, just
about every other performance available