Mozart: Requiem (CD review)

Also, Exsultate Jubilate. Helen Donath, soprano; Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano; Robert Tear, tenor; Robert Lloyd, bass. Carlo Maria Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus. EMI Seraphim Classics 7243 5 73702 2 6.

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.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first 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 use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

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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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa