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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 Ė 1791)
Inter natos mulierum, K.72 (1771) [5:09]; Misericordias Domini, K. 222 (1775) [6:09]; Requiem, K. 626 (1791) (completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr) [41:03]
Miriam Allan (soprano), Anne Buter (mezzo), Marcus Ullmann (tenor), Martin Snell (bass), GewandhausKammerchor, Leipziger Kammerorchester/Morten Schuldt-Jensen
rec. Grosser Saal des Gewandhauses. Leipzig, Germany, 10-12 November 2004
Plus bonus disc with Great Choral Classics by Handel, Beethoven, Vanhal, Rossini, Mozart, Berlioz, Szymanowski, Tippett and Bach (various artists)
NAXOS 8.557728 + 8.551806 [52:21 + 71:29]

The catalogue is filled to the point of bursting with recordings of Mozartís swansong, the unfinished Requiem, so do we really need another one? Well, yes if the new one can add something significant, for example present an alternative to the traditional Süssmayr completions or perform it in an untraditional way. This is, to be sure, the Süssmayr version and it is played on modern instruments, so why bother? A look at the timing in the heading might give an answer Ė 41:03, that is fast, isnít it? I got out a favourite version, Franz Welser-Möst on EMI, recorded about 15 years ago, and he clocks in at 49:40! Further back in history Karl Böhm needed even longer to reach in aeternum, so here is an approach that might raise an eyebrow or two. I started the reviewing session by playing selected movements from Welser-Möstís recording and everything felt so right: no long-windedness but a healthy forward flow, finely contrasted with the dramatic sections given their due, secure singing from the London Philharmonic Choir and a line-up of renowned soloists with Felicity Lott in her most silvery vein. Could this really be bettered, provided you could live without period instruments?

When I switched over to the new Naxos it was obvious from the first bars that this was going to be something quite different. Speeds were even more flowing than Welser-Möstís but, more important, the actual sound and the articulation of the music placed it in a totally different world. The Leipzig orchestra play on modern instruments but they have adopted much of the period movementís way of playing with less vibrato, less legato than the LPO strings and overall sharper contours Ė itís like the difference between a charcoal drawing and the needle-point lines of an etching, i.e. the LPO seem to engage the full string body with its fatter sound while in Leipzig itís a much slimmer body. One could also put it that the two orchestras are on either side of the year 1800. The differences between the choirs are along the same lines. The sizeable LPO singers ring out magnificently in the big outbursts and are wonderfully silken in pianissimo; the GewandhausKammerchor produce a leaner sound but are still impressive at the dramatic highpoints, although they canít quite measure up with the Londoners for sheer power in, for example, Dies irae. The Leipzig performance is agile, rhythmically incisive, almost dancing where the LPO is more traditionally solemn. And maybe that is the crucial word, since solemnity is the core of this work, and seeing it as a religious work, which it certainly is, Welser-Möst may have a point or two at his advantage, but as a fresh approach to what is after all a standard choral work, Schuldt-Jensen is hard to beat on musical grounds.

Taking the soloists into account complicates matters further, since Welser-Möst has a stellar line-up as set against a young and on the whole lesser-known quartet. Lott is definitely the better of the two sopranos Ė traditionally speaking, Miriam Allan has a thinner voice with almost boy-treble qualities that take some time getting used to and she isnít always as secure as Felicity Lott. The other three has nothing to fear, though: Anne Buter sings a wonderful solo in Benedictus and Marcus Ullmannís light lyrical tenor is more in tune with the music than Keith Lewisís more heroic tones. Willard White is of course his authoritative self but Martin Snell is less strained and his lowest notes are actually more sonorous. I shall indeed be interested to hear more of him.

The two fillers on the Naxos disc are worth having: Inter natos mulierum a lively piece where the young Mozart makes clever use of the three trombones, Misericordias Domini a darker, more mature composition. But of course it is the Requiem that is the selling-point and I hope I have made clear its characteristics. Playing and singing are of the highest order and Schuldt-Jensenís reading really made me listen to the music with new ears. The sound is good, not too reverberant, and Keith Andersonís liner-notes are, as usual, excellent. We even get the sung texts with English translations.

As an extra bonus Naxos enclose a sampler disc, "Grand Choral Classics", with excerpts from their back catalogue. Several of these are quite long pieces and everything is well recorded and performed. The reason for this "extra" is Naxosí celebrating their first 18 years, but the offer is valid only for a limited period. Still, with bonus disc or not, this is an enticing proposition. Lively, joie de vivre 18th century as set against Welser-Möstís more dramatic, more solemn but still extremely vital 19th century. At present I am biased towards Naxos but my recommendation is: buy both. The Welser-Möst is also at budget price on EMI Encore.

Göran Forsling

 

 



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