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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Requiem, K. 626 (completed by Süssmayr, revised 2016 by Pierre-Henri Dutron)
Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
Marie-Claude Chappuis (alto)
Maximilian Schmitt (tenor)
Johannes Weiser (bass)
RIAS Kammerchor
Freiburger Barockorchester / René Jacobs
rec. 2017, Teldex Studio, Berlin
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902291 [46:01]

A puzzling release, this. It contains much that is musically very good indeed, and has a huge amount of musical and musicological interest in it; but it’s neither the Mozart Requiem you know, nor is it sufficiently different to really make it distinctive. I suspect it might primarily be a present for the Mozart-Requiem-Nut in your life.

What we hear is the first recording of a new realisation of Mozart’s unfinished score, but Pierre-Henri Dutron’s version is a revisiting of Süssmayr’s famous performing edition rather than a wholesale re-completion. That makes it mostly very familiar on the ear, and many of the changes he enacts are fairly subtle, but it means you’ll still be caught short by the occasional moment. The end of the Dies Irae for example, is taken by soloists rather than the full chorus, which is surprising but not unsuccessful, and the same effect opens the Lachrymosa very effectively, the result sounding like an anguished whisper into the dark.

Other times he alters the harmonies and instrumentation while leaving much of the melodic line unchanged, such as a rather lovely accompaniment to the Tuba mirum, or the spare orchestral texture of the Rex tremendae. An extra drum roll or two spices up the opening of the Confutatis, and the opening explosions of the Sanctus resolve themselves more gently than previously. Only the Benedictus sounds markedly different, with a rather distinct orchestral line, even though the ancestry of the vocal line is clearly Süssmayr’s.

The performances are very satisfying. I’ve written before that I’m only rarely a fan of Rene Jacobs’ Mozart – his take on the symphonies drives me mad! – but I rather enjoyed his take on the music here. There is a wheezy, dark edge to the orchestral sound of the opening, into which the choir sing with all the authority of a group of Orthodox monks. It’s a slightly unusual sound, but I must say I found it rather effective. It’s a bigger choral sound that you may be used to with historically informed Mozart, but the scale matches the authority of the work, and Jacobs isn’t weighted down with his sense of purpose. Indeed, he makes the Kyrie very fleet of foot, adding to the sense of architectural importance, and there is real bite to the Dies Irae, and even more thrilling spin to the Confutatis.

The soloists are fantastic, and their quartets in the Sequenza are delightful. Sophie Karthäuser is beautifully pellucid, while Marie-Claude Chappuis sounds more earthy and humane. Maximilian Schmitt brings his customary honeyed tone, while Johannes Weisser is colourful without being gruff.

A special mention, too, for the booklet note, which is very interesting, and leads me to think that this release will appeal in particular to Requiem-nuts who want to know more, because Dutron explains with admirable clarity a great deal about how complete the work was on Mozart’s death, and how any other composer can possibly go about the task of trying to finish what Mozart started.

Only you will know whether you want to explore a new take on Süssmayr’s completion, and at full price without a filler it’s a rather steep ask. I enjoyed it, though, and I can see myself coming back to dip into it again. Ultimately, I’m not sure there’s enough that’s different about it to give it sufficient interest or novelty value, but the performances are good enough to make a case.

Simon Thompson

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