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Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895)
Requiem in D minor - Missa pro defunctis (1855)
Marie Fajtová (soprano); Franziska Gottwald (mezzo); Tomislav Mužek (tenor);
Albert Pesendorfer (bass)
Philharmonischer Chor München;
Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller
rec. live, 22 July 2012, Abteikirche Ebrach, Germany
PROFIL EDITION PH12061 [74:23]

Munich-based Profil is certainly releasing some fascinating recordings - none more so than this live recording of the rarely heard von Suppé Requiem.
The Dalmatia-born Franz von Suppé found great fame for his operettas. It seems that Suppé was given assistance in Vienna by Donizetti who was a distant relative. Today he is most likely to be encountered through overtures and marches such as Light Cavalry, O du mein Österreich, Beautiful Galatea, Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna and Poet and Peasant. Suppé did write in other genres and composed a small number of sacred works including this Requiem in D minor. It is certainly neglected and if I was aware that he had written a requiem I had forgotten. A check has revealed that there are one or two recordings of the Requiem but I have not heard them.
The Philharmonie Festiva may be an unfamiliar name for many having been established as recently as 2008 by the Bavarian conductor Gerd Schaller who has a background heavily based in opera. This free-lance orchestra comprises mainly musicians from the Munich Bach Soloists augmented from ranks of the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Münchner Philharmoniker. In stark contrast to the young Philharmonie Festiva, the choir was established nearly 120 years ago in 1895. This is a live recording made in the glorious setting of the Ebrach Abbey the former Cistercian monastery in Bavaria.
The Requiem in D minor for soloists, choir and orchestra or the Missa pro defunctis (Mass for the dead) to give it its official title was completed in 1855, a product of the composer’s mid-thirties. Suppé wrote it in memory of his patron and friend, the theatre director Franz Pokorny who had died in 1850. In addition the score bears a dedication to ‘His Holiness, Pope Pius IX’. The fact that the dedication was accepted by the pontiff should serve as evidence of the score’s liturgical suitability. When the Requiem was introduced in 1855 at the Josefstadt Piaristenkirche, Vienna it was initially well received. Later it became labelled too ‘Italianate’, not containing enough of the solemn character of the more conventional requiem. It seems that the score was lost following a performance in Vienna in 1901 and only rediscovered in 1988 in a Vienna library. The score requests four soloists: soprano, alto, tenor and bass and a divided choir of at least 64 singers which can be doubled. The celebratory nature of the scoring which was rather lavish for its time specifies 24 violins, 8 violas, 6 cellos, 6 basses, double woodwind, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones and kettle-drums. It is cast in thirteen parts including the Dies irae which is subdivided into six sections.
Schaller has engaged an excellent quartet of soloists who are all new names to me. By far the busiest soloist is the perfectly chosen Austrian born bass Albert Pesendorfer who performs his challenging part with consummate ease. I find Pesendorfer unerringly consistent throughout, displaying rich and reverentially expressive singing. His solos in the Tuba mirum and Hostias sections demonstrate that this rock-steady bass is marvellously in tune. Making a fine impression, Croatian tenor Tomislav Mužek exhibits his smooth and warmly expressive voice in the Recordare section with the words Recordare, Jesu pie. Mužek has a rather operatic quality but it doesn’t impact too much. The alto part is sung by Franziska Gottwald a German mezzo-soprano who excels in the Recordare with Quaerens me, sedisti lassus: highly attractive singing of inspiring piety. Gottwald and Mužek in their affecting Recordare duet intone the words Juste judex ultionis and then Inter oves locum praesta complementing each other splendidly. In the section Lacrimosa dies illa Marie Fajtová, a Czech lyric soprano has a splendid purity of tone. She performs with a sure sense of involvement whilst managing to maintain utmost respect for the sacred text.
Right from the opening bars of the Requiem aeternam the dark-hued and tense writing reminded me of the sound-world to the Preludio of Verdi’s Rigoletto. I was struck by this weighty music heavy with dark foreboding in the short Dies irae section - a convincing and chilling evocation of the spectre of death. Giving emphasis to certain stanzas that Suppé clearly found particularly pertinent he repeats the words Dies irae, dies illa (Day of wrath, that fateful day) sixteen times and also repeats the words Salve me (Save me) in the Rex tremendae on eleven occasions. For me the standout section is the Recordare so dramatically lyrical and affecting. Several of the sections feature striking brass openings written with such assurance especially the opening of the Tuba mirum that sets the scene so magnificently. In addition I loved the impressively played solo oboe part in both the Recordare and the Lacrimosa.It’s good to see Schaller gaining high regard on the international stage. Here he underlines the score’s glorious lyricism conducting with unerring assurance and attractive sweep. The orchestral playing from the Philharmonie Festiva combines so cohesively with the well blended tone of the Philharmonischer Chor München.
As this recording attests Suppé’s Requiem is undoubtedly of high quality and certainly deserves a place in the repertoire. After hearing the work several times it contains a number of impressive and memorable sections none of which quite have that special unforgettable quality one finds in the best known requiems by composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi and Fauré. 

Profil is to be congratulated for providing full Latin texts with an English translation. There is also a satisfactory essay about the work. Great credit goes to the Bayerischer Rundfunk for ensuring excellent recorded sound in the challenging reverberation of Abteikirche Ebrach. I loved every second of Suppé’s splendid Requiem a real discovery stunningly performed and so satisfyingly recorded too.
Michael Cookson