Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem, K626 (compl. Süssmayr) [45:51]
C. Richard F. Maunder Amen (Fugue) [1:41]
Robert D Levin/Franz Bayer Sanctus [1:34]
Duncan Druce Benedictus [7:10]
Robert D Levin Cum sanctis tuis [2:53]
Michael Finnissy Lacrymosa [3:08]
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano); Christine Rice (mezzo); James Gilchrist (tenor); Christopher Purves (bass-baritone)
Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Academy of Ancient Music/Stephen Cleobury
rec. 26-27 June and 27 September 2011, Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge
Latin texts and English translations included
Mozart’s Requiem : An Audio Documentary by Cliff Eisen [66:31]
Read by Elin Manahan Thomas with Andy Dix, Kate Caro, Simon Kiln, Duncan Druce and Michael Finnissy
KING’S COLLEGE KSG0002 [SACD: 62:37 + CD: 66:31]
Following the initial release on King’s College’s own label, which was a recording of the celebrated Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (review), Stephen Cleobury and his choir offer Mozart’s Requiem. However, just as the Nine Lessons release went a bit further than might have been expected by adding recordings of some of the carols commissioned for the Festival in recent years, so too this is more than ‘just’ a recording of Mozart’s Requiem.
The Requiem is performed in the well-known - perhaps one should say ‘best-known’ - completion by Franz Süssmayr. Süssmayr’s work has come in for a fair degree of criticism over the years and various other scholar-musicians have had a go at completing the torso of Mozart’s score. In an appendix to the main performance Cleobury presents extracts from some of those alternative completions. That’s valuable in a way though we get no more than a ‘taster’ in each case. On a second disc comes a lengthy documentary feature about the Requiem, of which more in a moment.
Let’s consider the performance of the Mozart/Süssmayr score first. In many ways it’s a very good one. The King’s choir is on excellent form and they’re very ably supported by the Academy of Ancient Music, which I noted from the booklet celebrates the fortieth anniversary of its foundation this year. There’s a very good quartet of soloists - both of the male soloists are former choral scholars at King’s - and the four singers give very pleasing accounts of the Recordare and Benedictus. This is an historically informed performance not only in the use of period instruments but also in the use of an all-male choir. Occasionally one misses the refinement that the sopranos of a crack ensemble such as The Sixteen or The Monteverdi Choir might bring but, by compensation, the 18 trebles of the King’s choir have a good cutting edge to their sound and overall they make a very good showing - I like the ethereal sound they make in the ‘Voca me’ passages of the ‘Confutatis’.
Stephen Cleobury’s performance is, in the main, light on its feet. His tempi can be sprightly - as in the ‘Kyrie’ and the corresponding ‘Cum sanctis tuis’ fugue - and there were one or two occasions when I missed the weight of the long-admired 1986 recording by Gardiner and The Monteverdi Choir though that’s not really a matter of pacing, I think, since Cleobury’s timings are not appreciably quicker than Gardiner’s. The ‘Rex tremendae’ was the place where I most felt a lack of breadth; the tempo sounds jaunty and, as a result, I don’t hear much majesty in the music. That said, there’s ample bite and weight in the ‘Confutatis’ while the ‘Dies Irae’ is good and fiery. I like his nimble approach to the Offertorium and the ‘Quam olim Abrahae’ fugue at the end of that movement is pleasingly lively. The soloists are helped, I’m sure, by the nicely judged, flowing tempo in the ‘Recordare’. Their other important movement, the ‘Benedictus’, is also fluent in speed; personally I prefer just a touch more breadth in this movement than we hear on this occasion but that’s a subjective judgement. Overall, this is a fine reading and performance of the work, which I think will give a lot of pleasure, as it did to me.
The five extracts from alternative completions of the Requiem are, as I said, ‘tasters’ and I’m a little wary of making judgements on them for two reasons. One is that with the possible exception of the Maunder version I don’t recall hearing any of these completions in full so one is hearing these extracts out of context - though I presume they have been selected to be representative. The other reason for wariness is my familiarity with the Süssmayr completion. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sung the work in that version, let alone heard others perform it so Süssmayr’s handiwork, for all its faults, is ingrained in my mind.
Of the extracts on offer here the Maunder Amen is the only music that doesn’t occur in the score as we know it. Maunder came across a fragment and, for reasons that are explained in the booklet, surmised that it may well have been intended for the Requiem and so made a completion. The alternative version of the Sanctus is largely similar to the music with which we’re all familiar though the Hosanna is longer. Duncan Druce’s version of the Benedictus may surprise many listeners. It’s about half as long again as the Süssmayr version with a longer orchestral introduction. The vocal lines, though close at times to what we know, are significantly altered. I don’t know anything like enough about the process by which Druce arrived at his version to be able to comment as to the success of his work but the vocal writing is attractive. Robert Levin’s reworking of ‘Cum sanctis tuis’ is pretty close to the familiar version; the main changes lie in fairly extensive alterations to the word underlay.
Michael Finnissy comments in more detail about his own edition of the Requiem towards the end of the documentary feature. There he says that his version is a kind of ‘What if?’ essay: what if Mozart had lived longer and what if his music had reached forward - I paraphrase - to composers up to and including Hindemith and Stravinsky? He says that he’s moved the ‘Lacrymosa’ “very, very gently forward” in the direction of Rossini and Bellini. What listeners will notice most, I think, is that the solo quartet is included in the movement and that some of their writing - and some of the other musical lines - are more elaborate and ornate in comparison with what we’re accustomed to hearing. I don’t know to what extent this extract is typical of Finnissy’s work on the score as a whole but I have to say I don’t much care for his approach to the ‘Lacrymosa’; he makes it over-elaborate and in so doing sacrifices the vital solemnity in the music.
The second disc is devoted to an extensive documentary on the Requiem written by Cliff Eisen. There’s much of interest here, especially in the third of the three sections where he discusses the objections that arose to Süssmayr’s work on the score and some of the alternative versions that were made over time. The documentary is illustrated with generous musical examples from the Cleobury recording and besides Elin Manahan Thomas’s narration we hear extracts from various contemporary writings and both Duncan Druce and Michael Finnissy contribute comments about their respective editions of the score. It’s all very interesting but it is rather long and I wonder whether the length may inhibit people from listening to it more than once or twice. Cliff Eisen also contributes a good booklet note but the typeface is so miniscule that I found genuine difficulty in reading it. When will record companies show more consideration to those of us who do not enjoy twenty-twenty vision? The sound quality for the musical performances is very good.
This set justifies a very warm welcome on the basis of the performance of the Mozart/Süssmayr Requiem alone. The various bonus items add to the interest of this release.
A fine performance of the Süssmayr edition of Mozart’s Requiem with some interesting bonus items.
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