Simon MAYR (1763–1845) Requiem in G minor
Siri Karoline Thornhill (soprano), Katharina Ruckgaber (soprano), Theresa Holzhauser (alto), Brigitte Thoma (alto), Markus Schäfer (tenor), Robert Sellier (tenor), Martin Berner (bass), Ludwig Mittelhammer (bass), Virgil Mischok (bass)
Simon Mayr Chorus and Ensemble/Franz Hauk
rec. Asamkirche Maria de Victoria, Ingolstadt, Germany, 6–10 October 2013
world premiere recording NAXOS 8.573419-20 [70:09 + 46:15]
Quite recently I reviewed Mayr’s very first opera – out of circa seventy – enthusiastically, for its rich melodiousness and the remarkably inventive orchestration. This requiem is just as attractive and my only objection – and it isn’t really an objection – is that the melodic sweetness is so charming that one wonders: is this really a sacred work? The same reservation has sometimes been posed also in relation to Verdi’s Requiem, and it is true that a lot of his music sounds uncannily like Aida. Even so, we have accepted this and today it is the most popular of the requiem settings, closely followed by Fauré’s much milder and genial chamber-sized work. Let me maintain from the outset that I took Mayr's music to my heart and am fully convinced that I will return to this work many times in the future for its freshness, its charm and its warmth; the latter characteristic not unimportant for a mass for the dead. We need care and compassion at those moments. I mention the fact for sensitive readers to contemplate before deciding whether they want it or not.
As I already hinted in the first paragraph Mayr’s melodic inventiveness is remarkably consistent and there is great power in the choral passages. I write ‘passages’ because there is not one single movement allotted to the chorus alone. Instead the nine soloists are busy throughout, mostly two or more together and with the chorus. There are also a number of solo arias, several of them quite long but generally not overlong. Mayr handles the architecture of the work skilfully and there is a dramatic pulse that keeps the listener’s interest during its almost two-hour length; it's much longer than Verdi’s. A typical performance of his Requiem takes about 80 minutes.
Some comments on the various movements may be justified. In Kyrie there is a lot of florid writing for the soloists and the concluding Kyrie eleison (CD 1 tr. 6) is a glorious fugue. Dies irae (CD 1 tr. 7) opens with airy strings, pointing forward to the romantic era. Ominous brass sonorities announce the entrance of the chorus, which arrives in rhythmically incisive form. Tuba mirum (CD 1 tr. 8) is introduced by mighty trombone playing, before Martin Berner’s warm bass voice takes over. This is followed by Liber scriptus (CD 1 tr. 9) where the woodwind dominate and tenor soloist Markus Schäfer shares the solo space with a solo clarinet; a delicious movement. Quid sum miser (CD 1 tr. 10) is heralded by a solo cello and Siri Karoline Thornhill sings with great beauty before the chorus comes in, powerfully, at Rex tremendae. The short Recordare (CD 1 tr. 11) is a tenor solo for Robert Sellier with obbligato woodwind, dominated by the oboe. Ms Thornhill returns in the beautiful Ingemisco (CD 1 tr. 12), again with woodwind in the background. Preces meae is a very beautiful solo for Markus Schäfer, assisted by three colleagues and the solo clarinet again. Whereupon the chorus takes over with a strong and rhythmic Confutatis.
It is in the second half of the work that some of the secular aspects creep in. Inter oves (CD 2 tr. 1) almost dances to a catchy melody, Oro supplex (CD 2 tr. 2) has a horn solo and Martin Berner’s bass gilds the vocal line. The music is almost frivolous and stirring. Lacrymosa (CD 2 tr. 3) with four soloists and chorus, is very beautiful and towards the end a mischievous piccolo flute garnishes the dish. In the noble Huic ergos there are pre-echoes of Verdi’s Requiem. Thornhill’s silvery voice lies on top of the ensemble in the Sanctus (CD 2 tr. 5), while Teresa Holzhauser, in company with the clarinet — he was busy during these recording sessions — takes care of Benedictus. Possibly the most beautiful movement of all is Agnus Dei (CD 2 tr. 8). There are phrases here that are heavenly.
There is so much care, love and commitment behind this production. I would like to give a bunch of roses to everyone involved.