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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem in D minor, K626 (compl. Smayr)
Edith Mathis (soprano), Trudeliese Schmidt (alto), Peter Schreier (tenor), Gwynne Howell (bass)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Sir Colin Davis
rec. live, 1984, Herkulessaal, Munich
Latin text and English translation included
Picture format: 1080i HD (Upscale) 4:3. Sound: PCM Stereo 192 kHz High Resolution Audio/PCM Stereo 48 kHz.
ARTHAUS Blu-ray 109180 [60:00]

This film of Sir Colin Davis conducting Mozart’s Requiem is a welcome reminder of what a fine interpreter of Mozart’s music he was. Here, working with a distinguished solo quartet and an excellent choir and orchestra he directs a splendid performance which is, in the best sense of the word, traditional in conception and execution.

Davis brings out the drama in the work; indeed, he presents it on an operatic scale. It’s evident from the start what sort of a performance we are in for because there’s grandeur and drama in a powerfully projected account of the opening ‘Requiem’. The chorus, which I judge numbers about eighty singers, is encouraged – indeed required – to sing out. The Kyrie fugue is, again, strongly projected; there’s a good deal of thrust in this performance.

Davis makes quite a pause before the ‘Dies Irae’ – long enough for the chorus to sit down and then rise again – and then the start of the Sequence really blazes. Davis conducts with the sort of intensity that you fancy he’d also bring to the Verdi Requiem and his choir is not only powerful but also incisive. At ‘Tuba mirum’ Gwynne Howell is commanding and his colleagues in the solo quartet each make a fine contribution. The soloists also impress mightily in the ‘Recordare’, where there’s plenty of shading and nuance in their singing. Later, in the Benedictus, which Davis invests with an elegant sense of flow the quartet once again distinguish themselves, offering stylish singing both individually and as a team.

In speaking of the choruses I’ve stressed so far the power and majesty of Davis’s approach. That’s apparent also at ‘Rex tremendae’ in the Sequence but later in that same movement we experience another, equally convincing facet of the Davis style: ‘Salva me’ is sung with great sensitivity. In the same vein the men hurl out ‘Confutatis’ with histrionic power and are answered by the ladies gently beseeching ‘Voca me’.

Only once did Davis disappoint me slightly. I felt he took ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ at too steady a pace but even here I could not but admire the way he made every accent and dynamic contrast count. The following movement, the ‘Hostias’, is simply lovely; it’s sung and played in a gently prayerful fashion. As the chorus rises to sing the ‘Agnus Dei’ Davis can be seen quite clearly mouthing an instruction – I’m pretty sure he says “watch me” followed by a smile. The instruction is clearly followed to the letter because the movement is performed most stylishly with the crucial dynamic contrasts scrupulously observed.

I’ve focused on the singing but must not neglect to say that the playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is consistently excellent, as you’d expect from this ensemble.

If you want slim-line and period-style in the Mozart Requiem and given by small forces then this release is not for you. However, if you want a performance that confirms the mighty stature of this work then Sir Colin Davis is a pretty infallible guide.

As for the presentation, the camerawork is satisfactory but a bit limited and unimaginative – in truth, it’s of its time. It’s a pity we have to watch the performance in rather cramped 4:3 resolution but that didn’t spoil things for me. The sound is good.

This distinguished performance would grace anyone’s collection.

John Quinn

Previous review (earlier DVD release): Paul Shoemaker



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