Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem, K626 [ed. Beyer, Maunder, Alarcón] [37.40]
Clarinet Concerto, K622 [28.00]
Lucy Hall (soprano), Angélique Noldus (mezzo), Hui Jin (tenor), Josef Wagner (bass)
Benjamin Dieltjens (basset clarinet)
Namur Chamber Choir, New Century Baroque/Leonard Garcia Alarcón
rec. C J Bonnet Studio, Jujurieux, Ain, France, 22-26 April 2012 (concerto) Salle des fêtes, Bourg-en-Bresse, Ain, France, 28 September-2 October 2012 (requiem)
AMBRONAY AMY 038 [65.40]
It is a very good idea to couple together the two last major works of Mozart, both written in the final year of his life and looking forward to the romantic era which was soon to dawn. These two works have something else in common; they are both best known in editions which contain music that was certainly not written by Mozart. In the case of the Clarinet Concerto this arose from the fact that Mozart was writing for an instrument which had only recently begun to be employed in orchestral music, and the design of which had not been finally established. In particular it is clear that the clarinet for which he wrote had an additional downward extension in range which Mozart did not hesitate to employ. When the work came to be published (the original manuscript is lost) an unknown editor rewrote these passages, transposing up an octave the parts of the score that were unplayable on the clarinet as that instrument had become standardised. The results are often very difficult to play, with inelegant fast-running passages over the ‘break’ in the instrument’s compass which certainly were not what Mozart originally had in mind. In recent years attempts have been made to reconstruct the instrument for which Mozart wrote - it has been dubbed, not very originally, the ‘basset clarinet’ - and restoring the low-lying passages to their original octave. The results are much more satisfactory as a musical experience than with the old ‘standard’ edition, and that is the version of the score that we are given here.
The clarinet part is played superbly by Benjamin Dieltjens on an instrument with delightfully woody tone. It is described in the booklet as a “clarinette de basset” but the soloist explains in a lengthy note that in fact he used two instruments, including a specially adapted clarinet constructed by Rudolf Tutz of Innsbruck on the basis of a sketch of Stadler’s original instrument found in Riga. He says that he sought to obtain a vocal quality of sound, and in this he succeeds magnificently. The period instruments which accompany are also superbly characterful, but as so often with ‘authentic’ performances there is something wrong with the internal orchestral balance. We know that Mozart expressed delight when he came across an orchestra which sported forty violins - even Wagner would have regarded that number as excessive - and there can surely be little doubt that the reason for this delight would have been his realisation that at last the melodic lines in the violins could be properly heard without being overbalanced by the wind and brass accompaniment. During the concertante passages of the performance here, the balance between clarinet and strings is succulent and tasty. During the tutti sections (especially at the opening) the violin lines - which bear the brunt of the thematic development - are frequently so far overshadowed by the wind and brass as to be ineffective. There are a mere dozen violins here, and double that number would hardly have been sufficient. It seems to me that there is a bleak choice here: either we have the music of Mozart and his contemporaries played by chamber orchestras, in which case modern instruments are needed to ensure correct balance; or we should have larger bodies of ‘period’ strings in order to make certain that the intentions of the composer are properly realised. To try and have one’s cake and eat it is here to miss out on the cake altogether, or at least a considerable part of the filling.
The Requiem was never completed by Mozart at all, and the standard version for many years was that made by his pupil Süssmayr at the request of Mozart’s widow Constanze, who was anxious to obtain the commission that was due on the completion of the work. Initially there was some confusion as to how much of the work was Mozart’s and how much that of Süssmayr, but editions from the mid-nineteenth century onwards clearly identified the work of each composer. It was not until the mid-twentieth century, however, that new editions of the work began to appear, replacing Süssmayr’s sections of the score with alternatives founded in Mozart’s sketches. This procedure generated a good deal of controversy; it is not clear to what extent Mozart discussed his intentions for the work with Süssmayr, but the pupil may well have been given guidance by the master which should not be simply ignored. What we are given in this performance is by and large simply the sections of the score which Mozart is known to have substantially completed - which leaves out the whole of the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei - with one exception. The Lacrymosa, which was left incomplete by Mozart, is here given in Süssmayr’s completion with the addition of an Amen fugue written by Richard Maunder and based on a Mozartean sketch which Süssmayr ignored. The result is somewhat odd - the Süssmayr conclusion ends with a bold choral Amen to which the ‘new’ fugue seems a rather perfunctory appendage. David Druce, in his edition of the score, takes the bolder step of recomposing the Süssmayr material to lead into the fugal material in a more organic - if perhaps less Mozartean - manner. What it all comes down to in this performance is whether the listener will want a recording in which the matter of completion (by whichever editor) is completely ignored and the work left as an inevitably incomplete torso. It has been suggested, for example, that the fugal Hosanna is based on a subject which Mozart himself suggested to Süssmayr - and if that is indeed the case, surely this passage at least should not simply be omitted. There are also one or two oddities in the edition of the score presented here. This basically follows the revised edition of 2005 by Hans Beyer, but the conductor explains that he has ‘completed’ the trumpet parts in the Dies irae and those for the trombones in the Offertorium. This doubling of the choral parts by trombones is dubious at best, especially when the results sometimes drown out the singers. The crescendo on the final chord, thrilling as it is as a conclusion to the performance, does not sound very Mozartean at all but more like a romantic excrescence on the score.
Nonetheless the performance is a thrilling one. The choir, an excellent body of two dozen singers, are lively and strong. Clearly they thoroughly enjoy themselves. The soloists, a well-blended team, are also nicely full-bodied and make no attempt to produce the sort of anaemic tone that sometimes is held to pass for authenticity. As in the concerto, one could really do with more body from the string players, but since so much of the thematic content is contained in the vocal and woodwind lines this is not as serious a problem as in the concerto, although this could also be the result of the different and more resonant recording venue.
In short, despite some reservations over the internal balances of the orchestra, this is a most enjoyable pair of performances. If the ingenious coupling appeals, lovers of period instruments will find much to give pleasure - more so in the Requiem than in Roger Norrington’s period performance which I reviewed recently.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Lovers of period instruments will find much here to give pleasure.
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