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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) and Sigismund NEUKOMM (1778-1858)
Requiem (1791) [51:09]
(Requiem aeternam [6:26]; Dies irae [1:53]; Tuba mirum [1:09]; Liber scriptus [0:44]; Quid sum miser [1:14]; Rex tremendae [1:46]; Recordare [2:52]; Ingemisco tamquam [2:33]; Confutatis [2:25]; Lacrymosa [2:29]; Domine Jesu [6:34]; Sanctus [5:53]; Agnus Dei [3:11]; Lux aeterna [4:36]; Libera me [8:13])
Hjordis Thebault (soprano), Gemma Coma-Alabert (mezzo), Simon Edwards (tenor), Alain Buet (bass-baritone)
Kantorie Saarlouis
La Grande Ecurie et La Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire
rec. 13 November 2005, Saint Barthelémy de Sarrebourg Church, Moselle
TELERAMA K617180 [51:09]


In this excellent disc from Telerama, an exciting performance of Mozart’s Requiem reveals an intriguing gem of musical history. Many will be aware of the mystery surrounding Mozart's unfinished work, but fewer will be aware of the fact that one solution has come from Rio, in whose national library was found the manuscript of an added, concluding Libera Me by the composer Sigismund Neukomm.

Neukomm was born in Salzburg twenty two years after Mozart. He appears not to have had any direct contact with the older composer, despite having a number of factors in common, such as their friendship with Michael Haydn, the fact that Neukomm was born in a house opposite the Mozarts’, and also that Constanze, Mozart’s wife, sent her younger son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart to Neukomm for harpsichord lessons. Neukomm swiftly made his way up in the world, with the friendship of such musical luminaries as the Haydn brothers (he did a great deal of arranging for Joseph Haydn), not to mention Prince Talleyrand of Paris, who introduced him to the great and good and helped obtain commissions and performances of Neukomm's work. Travelling, a great interest of Neukomm’s, was something he indulged in as much as possible, yet it was as company for the Comte de Luxembourg, on a diplomatic mission to the court of Emperor João VI, that he found himself journeying to Rio.

That South America underwent an extraordinary musical proliferation in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is a fact that is becoming well-known, and when Neukomm arrived he found, amongst other fine musicians, one Nuñes Garcia. Garcia was a founder of the musical institution and concert promotion organisation the Brotherhood of St Cecilia, and he not only conducted performances of the Mozart Requiem, but had himself also composed a strikingly similar requiem mass.

In 1819, nearly thirty years after Mozart’s death, a performance of the Requiem was given on the feast of St Cecilia, in the church of the Brotherhood of St Cecilia, in memory of the musicians who had died that year. It was conducted by Garcia. It is assumed to be the one for which Neukomm wrote the Libera me that was to complete Mozart’s masterpiece. The only pieces of evidence we have that might cause us to question this is that in his review of the concert, Neukomm doesn't mention his own part in completing the work, and also that when cataloguing his works before he left to return to Paris, he dated the Libera me 1821, raising the possibility that he composed it for a further performance.

Although the (usually plainchant) Libera Me movement is typically included as part of the Absolution in a service of the mass of the dead, it is not needed for a Requiem concert performance or in an anniversary mass commemorating one or more dead. Neukomm’s addition is, of course, in the style of Mozart, although he had developed along with the times so that, as Jean-Claude Malgoire, the conductor of this performance, notes: "when the Libera me is compared to the other works of sacred music written by Neukomm during his Brazilian period, one realizes that he had to effect a "mental flashback" here in order to recreated the musical spirit prevalent in Vienna and Salzburg at a time when he was himself only a youthful pupil of Michael Haydn!" Intriguingly, as well as offering precise indications of the tempo for his Libera Me, Neukomm also includes some optional extra instrumentation, with parts for pairs of oboes, horns and flutes.

When Neukomm returned to France, where he was to remain for the rest of his life, the manuscript was placed in the archives of the Church of the Brotherhood of St. Cecilia in Rio, where the performance had taken place, before being taken to the national library, where it has remained since.

As a recording made at a live performance in a church, this is rather reverberant, though not off-puttingly so. It is surprisingly free from audience noises - perhaps audiences behave better in France than in the UK? The pace is fast and the performance as a whole exhilarating – listen to the urgency in, for example, the Dies Irae. Every element of this recording lends itself to an extraordinarily dramatic rendition of the work - the instruments very accented, with a slightly jagged and forceful quality. The brass in particular is fairly raucous, harsh and almost coarse. The sound is slightly rough around the edges – instruments and voices all a bit wild and impassioned rather than smooth, resulting in an often menacing air. The soloists are excellent – soprano Hjordis Thebault has a pleasantly rich and mature voice, yet a light tone, whilst the tenor Simon Edwards comes across as fairly tempestuous and fervent – his voice almost histrionic – which works extremely well in the context of this particular version. In the powerful Lacrymosa, grief is very tangible, with the accented leaning phrases in strings adding to the sense of anguish. Yet despite the general emphasis on drama and unrestrained emotions, beauty also shines through – listen to the lovely Sanctus, for example, where the soloists work excellently together to create a gorgeous sound. This radiant and positive movement creates a dramatic mood change when we reach the deeply lugubrious opening of the Agnus Dei. Neukomm’s Libera Me is full of fire and grit, with some parts of the text almost whispered and others shouted out – very impressive indeed. It blends in well with the rest of the work, thus providing a satisfying and unobtrusive conclusion to the Requiem.

On the whole, this is quite a remarkable disc – to hear an added Libera Me is fascinating, and the performance itself is thrilling. Such agitation, swift pace and almost rowdy passion may not be to everyone’s taste - and indeed, one drawback of the prominence given to emotional weight in this recording is that the words are not always very clear – yet it is an exciting and unusual version. For me, the power easily makes up for lack of refinement and smoothness in the performance.

Em Marshall


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