This Blu-Ray preserves a concert given in the vast Baroque cathedral of Salzburg in 1999 to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Herbert von Karajan. It’s quite a solemn occasion; there’s no applause before or after the performances and at the end it appears that a bishop motions everyone to stand in silence.
The performers are placed in front of the high altar and Abbado uses a slimmed-down orchestra while the choir numbers around forty singers.
The concert opens with two short soprano arias sung by Rachel Harnish. ‘Betrachte dies mein Herz und frage mich’ is elegantly sung and played but it’s not top-drawer Mozart. The celebrated ‘Laudate Dominum’ is quite a different matter; this is exquisite Mozart. Harnish sings the piece well and she is stylishly supported by the choir and orchestra.
Karita Mattila takes over the soprano solo duties for the Requiem and she’s joined by three equally stellar colleagues. This is a formidable solo quartet and they live up to their respective reputations. At the start of the ‘Tuba mirum’ I had the sense, perhaps wrongly, that Terfel was trying to pull the music back a fraction from Abbado’s chosen speed but everything soon settles and he anchors the quartet sonorously. Mattila’s gleaming soprano is a consistent delight and both Mingardo and Schade sing extremely well. These singers recognise that much of the solo writing is quasi-operatic and they aren’t afraid to sing accordingly, though nothing is overdone. Both the ‘Recordare’ and Benedictus are very fine.
The Swedish Radio Choir sings expertly and flawlessly. This is a flexible yet highly disciplined ensemble and it shows. Theirs is a highly distinguished contribution – the ladies’ quiet singing in the ‘Confutatis’ is a particular delight. The orchestral playing is on the refined level that one associates with the Berliner Philharmoniker.
Abbado conducts with great distinction and taste, as you’d expect from such a fine Mozart conductor. His pacing of the score is flawless and he takes great care over detail – see, for example, how he gets the violins to caress each pair of quavers in the ‘Lacrymosa’.
I’m not sure what edition of the score is used – and the booklet is completely silent on this point. Mostly it’s the familiar Süßmayer completion that we hear but there are some noticeable points of difference. Among these are some points of detail in the orchestral parts of the Benedictus – including some bars immediately before the ‘Hosanna’ which are certainly not from the Süßmayer edition. The ‘Hosanna’ after the Benedictus is not the familiar Süßmayer music and there are some alterations to the choral parts in the Agnus Dei which I’ve never heard before. I’m afraid I’m insufficiently familiar with the various completions of the Requiem other than the tried and trusted Süßmayer version to enlighten readers on this point. In any case, this is the sort of information which ought to be provided in the documentation – but I bet no one at Euroarts knows what edition was used.
However, the main thing is that this is a very distinguished performance of the Requiem and a fitting tribute to Karajan by Abbado. The camera work is very good. The sound quality is fully satisfactory. It’s clear from the way the last chords of some movements echo around that the acoustic of the cathedral is very reverberant but the engineers have tamed this so that we hear the performers clearly without the sound being too close or constricted in any way.