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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Requiem in E flat major [42:27]
Miserere in D minor [21:36]
Simona Houda-Šaturová (soprano), Britta Schwarz (contralto), Eric Stoklossa (tenor), Gotthold Schwarz (bass)
Dresdner Kammerchor
Dresdner Barockorchester/Hans-Christoph Rademann
Recorded live 5th-6th February 2005 in the Lukaskirche, Dresden.
CARUS 83.175 [65:04]

The Requiem is delightful, which I suppose is the problem, really. The modern listener has learnt to take in his stride the fact that Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater has some strangely jolly movements along the way, since it also has some gravely moving ones. Likewise, Vivaldi could spin florid vocal acrobatics by the yard over a dancing bass-line, but he could also write choruses with patches of lacerating, almost visionary chromatic harmony. Hasse’s Requiem begins and mostly continues – there are a couple of gravely impressive alto arias later on – in the manner of the lighter movements by the composers I’ve mentioned. Bernard Shaw, who spent much of his time as a music critic sniffing out Requiems and railing against them, might have found this one rather amusing. It’s all very attractive but it doesn’t sound the way we expect a Requiem to sound – the manner is suited enough when the Sanctus and Benedictus arrive, of course. It had me reflecting on the strange fact that no Requiem satisfying to modern ears seems to have been produced between Victoria and Mozart. It makes you wonder if the baroque idiom was inherently unsuited to writing one.

And yet, poor souls, not to be able to write a Requiem if you need one! And why should the language that comes naturally to you not be good enough if you feel it that way? Is there anything inherently sillier about writing a florid, fluent, bouncing baroque Requiem than there is about writing one in the style of grand opera (Verdi) or the Broadway musical (Andrew Lloyd Webber)?

And if we’re going to make a talking point out of this Requiem, then are we quite sure that gravely held minor chords sound sad, and lively music in the major key sounds happy, because it is so, or because we have been taught that it is so, or have been conditioned by works which are traditionally labelled "tragic", "joyful" and so on, to suppose that others adopting the same manner must have the same character? Could there not be a looking-glass world somewhere in which you play the Widor Toccata at funerals and Nimrod at weddings? If nothing else, this Requiem of Hasse’s should make you think.

There’s another oddity, though. The opening two movements of the Miserere have all the stabbing gravity we would expect of a Requiem. The music then proceeds from darkness to light in a manner which is wholly satisfying. This really would be a useful acquisition for the repertory as an alternative to similar pieces by Vivaldi and the like. Which makes the Requiem all the stranger.

The presentation – performance, notes, texts, translations and recording – are everything they should be. Why not give it a try?

Christopher Howell

see also review by Paul Shoemaker



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