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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
CD 1

Requiem in D minor K626 (1791) [49.47]
Dame Felicity Lott (soprano); Della Jones (mezzo); Keith Lewis (tenor); Willard White (bass)
CD 2

Mass in C minor; K.427 ‘Great’ (ca.1782) [56:00]
Edith Wiens (soprano I); Dame Felicity Lott (soprano II); Laurence Dale (tenor); Robert Lloyd (bass); David Bell (organ)
London Philharmonic Choir; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
rec. April 1989, St. Augustine’s Church Kilburn (Requiem); February 1987, Walthamstow Assembly Hall London (Mass)
EMI CLASSICS 5 20949 2 [49.47 + 56:00]
Experience Classicsonline

These recordings have been released previously, as a CFP Twofer, and the Requiem has also appeared individually. Past reactions to the Requiem have been somewhat mixed, with some fans claiming it as their favourite version, others finding it rather pedestrian. I can appreciate why EMI continue resurrecting it as a big-name part of their catalogue, but while there are many good things in it, I wouldn’t spend much time arguing its case as a first choice.

Mozart’s Requiem is one of those pieces on which you don’t want to have to compromise in a recording. It’s either an inspirational rendition of an elusive, unfinished – even flawed masterpiece, or it’s just another disc which will sit on your shelves gathering dust. Welser-Möst’s opening is coloured by a rather sour clarinet, whose buzz-saw tones affect the whole sound of the orchestra once your ear has latched onto it, about 11 seconds into track one. The choir is fine, if sometimes a little too shouty for my taste. Take the men’s entry 21 seconds into the Dies irae or the opening of the Confutatis maledictis and you’ll hear what I mean. The balance tends to drown out the orchestra as well, so that there is precious little detail from either in the big tuttis. The soloists are generally fine, and Willard White is also part of one of my favourite recordings of this work, coming across rather more effectively with John Eliot Gardiner on Philips. Della Jones can be a bit overly-dramatic, hacking out the notes which go over her break point 1:50 into the Tuba mirum. The ensemble work in the Recordare is nicely done as elsewhere, and the soloists do balance and blend with each other rather than fighting for supremacy.

There are many nice things about this recording, but with so many others which offer so much more I can’t gather too much enthusiasm. My own favourite is still that of the 1986 Gardiner on Philips, but this does have the leaner sound of his baroque specialist instrumentalists and Monteverdi choir. If you are looking for a budget ‘non-authentic’ recording of the Requiem you could do far worse than that of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos on CFP, and don’t be put off by that 1964 recording date – those old analogue recordings are sweet as a nut. Either that or you could opt for the more up to date Morton Schuldt-Jensen on Naxos.

The Great Mass in C minor also faces stiff competition, and again one of my favourites from the catalogue is my reference with John Eliot Gardiner on Philips. This competitor is topped off by the sublime singing of Sylvia McNair, and while both Edith Wiens and Dame Felicity Lott are both very fine singers, I find their comparatively over-ripe vibrato a little on the heavy side in this music. This style does however fit in with Franz Welser-Möst’s large-scale vision of the score, and is unlikely to bother anyone looking for a modern instrument performance on a grand scale. Indeed, I found myself warming more to the performance of the Mass over that of the Requiem in this set, so if this is your priority you might want to give this set more of a chance. The organ helps ‘glue’ the choir to the orchestra in the Mass, but once again I found myself straining to hear what is really going on in the orchestra when the choir is in full cry. Have a listen to the Gratias agimus tibi section of the Gloria and see if you agree – it’s a grand sound to be sure, but what exactly is it we are hearing? The dynamic contrasts in the Qui tollis are very fine, but while there is a good energy in the Cum Sancto Spiritu the whole thing sounds rather generalised and could have done with rather less soggy articulation. It takes the brass and winds a little while to wake up in the Sanctus as well: that first ‘reply’ to the choir is a bit on the crumby side, but with the organ enriching the picture this and the final vocal ensembles of the Benedictus are fittingly grand.

I don’t want to be unfair, and it’s good to have a big-boned budget alternative for these works on the shop shelves. If I was still walking the floor in your local outlet however, I wouldn’t be shoving it under your nose or playing it at suspiciously loud volumes over the department’s speakers – well, maybe the Mass, but not often, not really. ...

Dominy Clements


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