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CD: Crotchet

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem in D minor K626 (1791) [56:13]
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Te Deum (1881-83) [22:53]
Sheila Armstrong (soprano); Janet Baker (mezzo); Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); John Alldis Choir; English Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
Anne Pashley (soprano); Birgit Finnilä (alto); Robert Tear (tenor); Don Garrard (bass)
New Philharmonia Chorus
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. 9, 12 July 1971, 4 January 1969, All Saints Church, Tooting, London. ADD
EMI CLASSICS 2127182 [79:09]
Experience Classicsonline

This disc contains two EMI re-releases in the Great Recordings of the Century series.

Mozart’s Requiem has been one of my favourite works since I first heard it as a child, and this recording by Barenboim is difficult to beat. From the opening bars of the Introit, there is a sense of deep contemplation, with the clarinet and bassoon suspensions accompanied by a heaviness in the strings. The choir entry is dark and ominous, continuing the sense of building tension and sorrow. Mozart’s genius in this work comes from its emotional strength conveyed through control of harmony and especially tension. The composer’s vocal writing is spectacular, and the orchestra balances particularly well in this recording. The fugue of the Kyrie maintains the weightiness of the opening, and the rising entries give a sense of splendor and magnificence.

The Dies Irae in this recording is ferocious and full of dark energy, with brass coming to the fore in the orchestral colour. This disc also boasts a star-studded cast of soloists, who provide a stunning Tuba Mirum, opening with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Robert Tear, and later joined by Janet Baker and Sheila Armstrong. These voices are impeccably well matched and make an impressive quartet. The Rex tremendae is rousing and full of passion, while the contemplative recordare is wonderfully phrased with the overlapping solo lines building well-paced dissonances. By contrast, the attacca entry of the Confutatis Maledictis quickly breaks the reverie, providing a great sense of drama and returning the dark energy to the music. The contrasting sections in this movement are extremely well handled, with wonderful juxtapositions of mood and character.

Mozart died after completing just the first two movements, with sketches of the vocal lines with figured bass for the other movements, and only eight bars of the lacrimosa. This recording uses Süssmayr’s reconstruction, which is the most heard despite other composer’s attempts at completing the movement. This is a glorious rendition, with the John Alldis Choir providing a rich and sombre sound. The remaining movements are similarly well presented; the Quam olim Abrahae sections are triumphant, while the Hostias is beautifully calm and tranquil. The joyful Sanctus with its closing Hosanna provides a sense of lightness, while the Benedictus is delightfully presented with some impressive solo singing. The Agnus Dei is poised and elegant, with Mozart’s harmony creating some magical moments. The reprise of the opening in the final movement gives the piece a sense of having come full circle, although the music is seen in a different light as a result of the experience of having heard the whole work.

There are numerous recordings of this Requiem on the market. If I could only buy one, it would be this one, for its combination of rich sound quality, excellent pacing and emotional impact. Barenboim gets to what I feel is the essence of Mozart’s work, supported by an impressive choir, fantastic orchestra and some stunning soloists.

Bruckner’s Te Deum is heard here in its 1969 recording, which was Barenboim’s first recording conducting Bruckner. The C major tonality seems bright against Mozart’s D minor, and Bruckner’s music is conceived on an enormous scale, with large orchestra, organ, chorus and soloists. The harmony in the opening movement shifts in blocks, with large-scale unisons accompanied by moving lines in the strings. This is powerful writing which has an impressive impact. The solo quartet in Te ergo quaesumus is once again impressive, with Barenboim this time working with Anne Pashley, Birgit Finnilä, Robert Tear and Don Garrard. The stunning Aeterna fac emerges with a burst of strength and energy. The last two movements combine more classical-style orchestration and harmony before the reprise of the opening material, the vocal lines holding long sustained notes and unisons in a dramatic final cadence. This is a bold work, heard in a magnificent performance.

Carla Rees 

EMI Great Recordings of the Century review pages



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