Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Requiem, K626 (1791) [46.32]
Simone Kermes (soprano)
Stephanie Houtzeel (alto)
Markus Brutscher (tenor)
Arnaud Richard (bass)
The New Siberian Singers
rec. February 2010, Novosibirsk Opera
ALPHA 178 [46.32]
The chamber orchestra MusicaAeterna was founded by Teodor Currentzis in 2004, while he was music director of the Novosibirsk State Opera and the orchestra was involved in Opera and Ballet performances at the theatre. On this CD the orchestra are described as the ‘orchestre de chambre de l’Opéra de Novosibirsk’, but in January 2011 Currentzis became Artistic Director of the Perm State Opera and Ballet and MusicaAeterna are now based in Perm.
The ensemble has a very wide range of repertoire. On this disc, the players sound as if they are playing in a historically informed way and the illustrations show them using period instruments. This recording was made in 2010 at the Opera of Novosibirsk, with the New Siberian Singers who are described in the booklet as ‘choeur de chambre de l’Opéra de Novosibirsk’.
Currentzis himself is of Greek birth - he is 40 next year (2012) - though he trained in Russia and settled there after his training.
Though the handsome booklet includes photographs, notes, texts and translations, there is absolutely no explanation as to how this recording came about; how a Siberian choir and orchestra came to be recorded by a Belgian record label. No matter, the results are pretty striking.
Both orchestra and chorus number around 30 people and Currentzis takes full advantage of the speed and flexibility that this gives him. The sound quality is lithe and focused; this is not a performance for anyone who wants a luxurious string tone. Currentzis relishes the spare quality of the sound-world and balances the orchestra with due allowance for the wind instruments. This is one of those performances where the basset-horns are allowed really to tell.
Currentzis’s speeds are distinctly brisk, and both chorus and orchestra take them impressively in their stride. With vibrato kept to a minimum on all sides, the fast passages come over admirably with some superbly controlled singing from the choir.
The edition used is the traditional one, so there are no shocks there. Not only does Currentzis relish the spare quality of his ensemble, he also emphasises this, encouraging the chorus to add extra dynamics and accents. Yes there are early music bulges in the choral line, but luckily their incidence is rarely at the expense of the musical line which is admirably consistent throughout. What may disturb purists more is the way he gets the singers to accent notes, such as the beginnings of phrases in the Introit and Kyrie. At various times the basses slap their strings in emphasis and at one point bells - of the variety used in church services - occur. It would have been nice to learn what Currentzis’s thoughts were. The Dies Irae is certainly impressive in its drama, but the Rex Tremendae seems a trifle too fast for its own good, with the opening chorus cries of ‘Rex’ shortened rather too much.
I gather from the CD label’s web-site that the recording benefited from 7 days of recording sessions and this shows: the recording and performance are admirably at one, completely thought through. This extends to the soloists, their vocal performances are in tone with the slimline quality of the performance.
Those who have seen the highly coloured Simone Kermes live may be surprised at the low-key and sympathetic performance she gives here; she spins a beautifully fine vocal line. All four soloists are individuals but they come together as a well blended quartet, not homogenous, just four voices nicely balance and listening to each other. Tenor Markus Brutscher has a slightly edgy lyric voice, which I rather like. He manages the tenor’s opening phrase admirably and after that scarcely puts a foot wrong; though both he and Kermes at times rather overdo the squeezing of the voice across the vocal line. The bass, Arnaud Richard, could perhaps be darker but he delivers the Tuba Mirum in a finely grained voice. Alto Stephanie Houtzeel joins with these three in a nicely controlled manner, missing entirely any plummy quality.
The singers use German pronunciation for the Latin, which is as it should be. At 46 minutes the CD is a little short and could have benefited from some additional items.
This will not be a Mozart Requiem for everyone, but Currentzis and his performers give a brilliantly performed account, bringing a breezy freshness to the whole enterprise which is infectious. I will certainly be playing this again.
I will certainly be playing this again.