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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem, K 626 (completion by Masato Suzuki) [46:06]
Vesperae solennes de confessore, K339 [24:48]
Requiem: Tuba mirum (alternative version) [2:51]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano); Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo); Makoto Sakurada (tenor);Christian Immler (baritone)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. December 2013, Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan
Latin texts and English translations included
BIS BIS2091 SACD [74:34]

For this recording of Mozart’s Requiem Masaaki Suzuki has used a new edition prepared by Masato Suzuki who is, I believe, his son. In the booklet Masato Suzuki explains that in many respects he has followed the familiar completion by Franz Süßmayr. However, in the first five movements of the Sequence (‘Dies Irae’ to ‘Confutatis’) he has adopted the changes made by another composer, Joseph Eybler (1765-1846), the first person invited by Constanze to complete her husband’s unfinished score. I can only presume that most of these changes are in the accompaniment because when following the performance in my Bärenreiter score – the Mozart/Süßmayr text – I couldn’t spot any changes to the vocal parts during these movements. Thereafter Suzuki says he has followed Süßmayr – though I noted changes to the words in the ‘Cum sanctis Tuis’ fugue where often the choir sing those three words instead of ‘in aeternum’. The biggest change that listeners will observe comes at the end of the Sequence. At the end of the ‘Lacrymosa’ the choir sings the word “Requiem” and there follows a short separate movement which is a fugue on the word “Amen”. This has been written by Suzuki based on Mozartian style and he cites two specific examples from other Mass settings which have guided him.

I may as well deal with these editorial issues at the outset. I’m not at all sure that the fugue adds anything and it is indeed short, lasting for just 0:58. To be honest, I don’t really see the point. For the rest, I doubt many listeners will notice any significant differences from the music we are accustomed to hearing. The Suzukis offer one other alternative in the shape of a different version of the ‘Tuba mirum’. In this, after the initial two-bar figure before the bass sings, the remainder of the “trombone” part is played on a bassoon. Apparently, this is how the music was presented in the first published score and Masato Suzuki points out that most of the instrumental part is not especially suited to the trombone. It’s interesting to hear it in this form though I’m glad that the alternative has been given as an appendix, which seems a sensible decision.

The performance of the Requiem is a very good one which, despite one or two reservations, I enjoyed very much. The choral singing and orchestral contributions are precise and polished while Masaaki Suzuki has assembled an excellent team of soloists who, in their quartets, genuinely sing as a team.

Such reservations as I have largely concern the pacing of certain passages, mainly involving the soloists. The Introit and Kyrie are both excellent with impressive singing by the 24-strong choir – six singers per part. The ‘Dies Irae’ is fast and fiery but I came to feel that the thunderous timpani were a bit too much of a good thing. Sir John Eliot Gardiner in his 1986 Philips recording is just as exciting here but his timpani are less obtrusive and the Monteverdi Choir articulates the music even more keenly than do Suzuki’s singers. In the ‘Tuba mirum’, though no change in tempo is marked, it’s customary to move the music on a bit after the bass solo, when the tenor sings ‘Mors stupebit’. I feel that Suzuki is too urgent in the speed he adopts here and for the rest of the movement; Gardiner is just a notch slower and that’s much more satisfactory. I’m even more uneasy with Suzuki’s pacing of the ‘Recordare’. The music sounds light and graceful, which is fine, but had he taken things a bit more steadily the overlapping string lines in the introduction would have made more of an impression. As it is, the chosen speed risks prettifying the music, despite the excellence of the solo singing, and I feel that what we hear is at odds with the import of the words. Gardiner is much to be preferred here. However, I must say in fairness that Suzuki paces the remaining quartet, the Benedictus, admirably and once again his soloists excel.

I admire the performance of the ‘Lacrymosa’, which is invested with no little feeling, and there’s grandeur at the start of the Sanctus. I was a little surprised that the Japanese singers don’t project the first two statements of Agnus Dei more powerfully – Gardiner’s choir is much more urgent – but overall this and the last movement go very well. My allegiance to Gardiner is not broken but there’s a great deal to admire in this Japanese performance. I should like to hear Suzuki in the C minor Mass.

I’m never quite sure what to make of the Vesperae solennes de confessore, which Mozart wrote in 1780. Among the five psalm settings and the Magnificat there is some admirable music – and the setting of Psalm 116, ‘Laudate Dominum’ is a Mozartian gem. However, all too often there doesn’t seem to be the depth of response to the words of which we know this composer to be capable and, despite the compositional skill, I have a nagging feeling of superficiality.

Suzuki’s performance is a fine one. The first two psalms, ‘Dixit Dominus’ and ‘Confitebor’, are distinguished by spirited singing and playing and these excellent performances are ideally paced. There’s clarity at all times. The setting of ‘Laudate pueri’ is rightly described in the booklet as “a powerful choral fugue” but it seems to me that Suzuki takes it at too sprightly a pace to bring out all the power in the writing – though the excellence of his performers means that we appreciate all Mozart’s technical skill in the writing. I looked out the 1971 recording by Sir Colin Davis, suspecting that this seasoned Mozart conductor would be more rigorous in his approach. In fact, I found the speed that Davis adopts was a bit too firm and steady for my taste, possibly because he had a much larger choir in the shape of the LSO Chorus. Perhaps my ideal speed for this movement lies somewhere in between? In the celebrated ‘Laudate Dominum’ Carolyn Sampson lavishes creamy tone and a winning sense of line on this delectable solo. The concluding Magnificat is festive and buoyant.

Despite some reservations I enjoyed this disc very much and found the expert performances very stimulating. As it’s a BIS disc it seems almost superfluous to comment on standards of presentation. The notes are comprehensive and well written and the SACD sound is very pleasing indeed; the recording is open and clear, presenting the performances very faithfully and musically.

John Quinn