Mozart: Requiem (SACD review)

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Concentus Musicus Wien. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 82876 58705 2.

Although this disc came out a few years ago, 2004 actually, I thought since I had recently reviewed several newer Mozart Requiem recordings, I'd throw this one in, too.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, a pioneer in the early-music movement, is obviously an old hand at reinterpreting classical music from a so-called authentic point of view, most often on period instruments, so it comes as no surprise that he would return to Mozart's Requiem once more, this time with his own Concentus Musicus Wien. Using the version completed by Mozart's copyist, Xavier Sussmayr, as amended more recently in the new critical edition by Franz Beyer, Harnoncourt produces a ready answer to those who would suggest that nobody can do anything new with the old warhorse.

The conductor tells us in a booklet note that he quit performing in an orchestra to begin leading his own band when he decided he just couldn't play things like the Requiem in "harmless, sugary interpretations" anymore. His present performance, therefore, is vibrant, spirited, emblazoned with fiery color, his orchestra and his soloists--Christine Schafer, Bernarda Fink, Kurt Streit, and Gerald Finley--encouraged to produce an impassioned response.

This is not say it entirely eclipses several other similarly animated accounts, like the one with Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic that came out just shortly before it, but because Harnoncourt's players are miked a little closer and because his group is quite a bit smaller and play on period instruments, the results tend to get us closer to the action and move the adrenaline faster. Abbado, on the other hand, is not really any more expansive than Harnoncourt, but as the sound is so much bigger, it seems broader in every respect. They are both good, lively interpretations, both recorded live, I might add, and the choice between them might not be easy to make despite their different approaches. I tend to fancy the new Harnoncourt recording despite some odd balance discrepancies in the choral-orchestral settings and its being made live, something I don't usually care for; luckily, his audience is quiet and unobtrusive. The big "however" is that I personally prefer several other period-instruments presentations to this one (see "The Basic Classical Collection"), so the matter for me is moot in any case.

Interestingly, another note in Harnoncourt's disc booklet goes on at length about how there is no actual "Mozart Requiem" and people should not call it such because the man never finished it, other hands, like Sussmayr's, Beyer's, and Harnoncourt's, revising it many times over. Nevertheless, the CD labels this recording Mozart: Requiem. Go figure. Also of interest, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi issued the music on both an SACD hybrid disc (double layered, two-channel and five-channel) and a regular stereo disc. I listened to the two-channel stereo layer of the SACD, presumably identical to the stereo issue and pretty much liked what I heard, be it live or not.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

I've been listening to classical music most of my life, starting with the classical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first classical recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor. Today, I'm retired from teaching and using a pair of VMPS RM40s. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (moviemet.com, formerly DVDTOWN) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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