Mozart: Requiem (CD review)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Requiem in D Minor, K. 626, seems to maintain a perennial hold on people's musical interests and appreciation; it remains endlessly popular, never seeming to go out of style. Maybe it's because it was the last thing Mozart composed before he died. Maybe it's because of a morbid attraction about his working on a funeral mass at his death. Maybe it's because he left it unfinished, and people have always been curious about what he might have done with it had he been able to complete it. Maybe it's because for years there was always a mystery about who commissioned it. Or maybe it's because it's just good music that almost everyone enjoys. Who knows.
So, did Mozart divine his own death? Did he think he was writing his own funeral dirge? Or did a jealous rival, Antonio Salieri, secretly contract the work and then poison Mozart as the famous stage play and movie would have it? The reality is that a representative from a Count Franz von Walsegg surreptitiously commissioned the work, Walsegg wanting it to commemorate the recent death of his wife. The secrecy involved was because Walsegg was an amateur musician who sometimes passed off commissions as his own work. In any case, the truth isn't always as much fun as the legend. Fortunately, neither fact nor fable does anything to diminish Mozart's music.
The classical catalogue overflows with as many different types of Mozart interpretations as you can name, from chamber orchestras to full orchestras, from period instruments groups to modern instruments ensembles, from regular singers and choirs to boy sopranos and all-male choirs. Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini takes about as old-fashioned an approach to the Requiem as possible, using a full, modern orchestra and traditional mixed soloists and full choir in his recording of the standard Sussmayr edition of the score. (Most critics believe that in failing health Mozart asked his assistant, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, to finish up the work in the event of his passing, which Sussmayr did.) Yet if Giulini's rendition is the kind you're looking for, he does it about as well as anyone around and better than most.
Giulini lends the work his usual elegant, graceful touch, making the reading one of the smoothest, most refined, and most lyrical you'll find. Not that the performance is with its requisite energy and passion, however, as we hear in the Dies Irae and Domine Jesu movements. What's more, you won't hear a better team of soloists and choristers than the ones here, or a more-polished orchestral tone.
That said, let me put in a caveat: I wouldn't necessarily count Giulini's realization as an absolute first-choice recommendation since I realize that a lot of listeners prefer an approach more in keeping with what Mozart might have heard in his own time, had he lived. Still, if it's a big production you're looking for, done by a full, modern orchestra (and at an uncommonly low price), you can hardly go wrong here. For many listeners, it may be exactly what they have always wanted. Add in the little Exsultate Jubilate, K. 165, with Erika Koth, soprano, and Berislav Klobucar leading the Berlin Philharmonic, and you get a better deal still.
EMI originally recorded the Requiem in 1979, remastered it in 1998, and then reissued it on CD in 2000 and again more recently. It's hard to beat the Seraphim budget price, too, for a recording that still sounds respectable. Yes, it's a tad thin, and the upper midrange and high end can be a bit rough. Nevertheless, there is a good low-end response, a wide dynamic range, a strong impact, and at least adequate transparency. A broad stereo spread and a commendable stage depth complete a more-than-acceptable sonic picture.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.