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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem KV 626 (1791) [57:57]
Maria Stader (soprano); Maureen Forrester (alto); David Lloyd (tenor); Otto Edelmann (bass)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Bruno Walter
rec. live, Chicago, 13 March 1958
Experience Classicsonline

Listen to the first few bars and the first thing you notice is the very coarse and somewhat muffled recording together with the amount of coughing. Fortunately there is much less in the rest of the performance. Then there’s the very slow speed and the large and not always well in tune chorus. With all of this you will immediately realise that this is in no way a direct rival to the many more recent recordings of the work. That’s especially the case for those inclining more closely to historical practice. However even if it is unlikely to be anyone’s choice as the sole representative of the Requiem in their collection, this recording does have considerable claims to a place there as a consistently interesting and thoroughly musical alternative to the many more modern versions.
As I have mentioned, speeds are generally slow, but these do allow Walter more time for phrasing and characterisation. Throughout the care over phrasing, dynamics and balance, especially in transitional sections, is remarkable. If you remember the frequently reissued recording of Walter rehearsing the “Linz” Symphony you will not be surprised at this, but the rewards for such rehearsal efforts are even greater here. The performance is always alive and never routine. The opening of the Dies Irae, for instance, is as dramatic as in any “period” performance, mainly due to the emphasis on the off-beat accents in the strings. In the Confutatis the vividly depicted contrast between the powerful and almost brutal cries of the male voices and the answering prayer of the female voices is operatic in its drama. The legato strings at the start of the Recordare are of exceptional beauty and the careful control of dynamics gives a sense of evolving drama to the movement. The crescendo in the violin semiquavers at the start of the Sanctus gives it a powerful forward momentum. Not everything works as well – the Tuba mirum starts very slowly with the crotchets detached in an almost mannered way although the main legato section works well. However for the majority of the work the concentration and thoughtfulness of the performance is remarkable.
There is a strong contrast between the styles of the soloists. There’s the beautiful tone and phrasing of Maria Stader, especially when singing softly. There’s the more robust approach of Maureen Forrester, the somewhat tight tone of David Lloyd and the powerful sound of Otto Edelmann. At the same time, they work together very much as a team – a surprisingly rare occurrence in performances of this work. Similarly the chorus, for all their general vibrato and occasional technical problems, do communicate in a way that more exact performances do not always do. The eloquent playing of the orchestra, somewhat forwardly balanced, is obviously the result of careful rehearsal.
Walter recorded the Requiem many times and I have not been able to compare this with other versions currently available. This is obviously not a safe recommendation for a recording of the work nor is it one likely to appeal to all listeners. Nonetheless for me at least it is so plainly the result of serious thought and effort by a serious musician in music that is very great but hard to interpret satisfactorily that I would want to have it as an alternative to better recorded and more historically informed performances. It is certainly worth sampling even if in the end you are not convinced by it.
John Sheppard


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