Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Requiem in D minor, KV626 (1791) [50:04] Ave verum Corpus, KV618 (1791) [2:59]
Olga Pasiecznik (soprano); Anna Lubanska (mezzo); Krzysztof Szmyt (tenor); Krzysztof Borysiewicz (bass); Lukasz Hodor (trombone)
"Sinfonia Amabile" Choir and Orchestra/Piotr Wajrak
rec. 2014, Norbertine Sisters Church on Salvator, Cracow, Poland. DUX 1210 [53:03]
No one need have any shame in bringing out another good recording of Mozart’s Requiem, but these days it will have to be pretty special or at the very least have some kind of USP that makes it stand out from the many alternatives available. Reading the booklet notes teaches us about the mysterious commission of the work, and the composer’s demise before it could be completed. The notes also point out the appearance and uses of this Requiem in recent pop culture, posing something of a non-conundrum; “such practices cannot be forbidden but one can ask: what are they for?”
This is a recording of which I started out sceptical, but which won me over by the end. This is not a particularly ‘historically informed’ performance nor does it make any claims in this direction, but the chorus sings with a clean non-vibrato sound and the general feel is of lightness rather than operatic weight. That is not to say that there is no drama or dynamic impact, but returning to it after some of the comparisons I look into below reminded me of the direction some classic performances have taken us in recent years. The soloists are all good, though soprano Olga Pasiecznik is a very nice topping to this particular cake.
Yes, there are some critical points to be made. Notes are occasionally slid into or between by both chorus and some solo voices, but this is the kind of minor issue that will be of little or no concern to most listeners. In some movements there is a slight drop in energy, and the timpani are by no means the most characterful on record. Towards the end of the Introit it sounds more as if the player is tuning up than really contributing, though this may be a feature of the recorded balance. Harder sticks may also have helped in this regard. The drama and urgency in the Dies irae is potent enough, though the trombone solo in the Tuba mirum is not the most subtle I’ve ever heard. Occasional moments where you might raise half an eyebrow are more aspects of provincial charm than clashes of artistic expectation, and I don’t mean these comments unkindly. There is a moment at the end of the Rex tremendae where the music slows down perceptibly. This is already taken at a measured tempo, and while this delivers extra sensitivity for the words ‘sale me’ it does give an odd initial impression, especially as Mozart has already written in an augmentation to the melody for this very purpose.
These are all relatively minor quibbles in a performance with many beautiful things. The wonderful Lacrimosa is very effective for instance, and I have no complaints that would have me skimming this recording into the long grass. It would be an impossible task to cover every comparison, and by the same token if someone were to ask me for an absolute top choice Mozart Requiem then I would be unable to provide any kind of definitive answer. We’re talking about performances on modern instruments, and so a good start would be the 1971 EMI recording conducted by Daniel Barenboim (see review). This is a more overtly dramatic, big-boned performance, but one which packs a more stirring emotional message. This may not be what you are after, but it is still a realistic alternative even given the vintage nature of the recording. Closer in scale to this DUX recording is another EMI performance, this time with Franz Welser-Möst, and one I certainly don’t prefer over Piotr Wajrak for reasons outlined in my review. Sir Colin Davis on RCA is in general more satisfying (see review), but as with Barenboim more operatic in approach than Wajrak. One of the nice features of this DUX recording is that the soloists are well balanced with the rest of the chorus and musicians, and ensemble pieces such as the Benedictus work very well as a result. I would say this is a performance from which you needn’t expect any lightning-bolt revelations, but in its lovely acoustic it does make for a very nice listen indeed.
No vocal texts are given in the booklet and the filler isn’t very substantial. You may find 53 minutes a bit on the skimpy side. Mozart composed the motet Ave verum corpus while writing his opera Die Zauberflöte, and this is a mere 46 bars of music that has become one of Mozart’s most beloved choral pieces. Also from 1791, this compact motet foreshadows certain aspects of the Requiem and is a good choice for a companion work performed with admirable restraint, though for some reason the string playing puts me more in mind of Elgar than Mozart.