Mozart: Requiem (CD review)

Donald Runnicles, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus. Telarc CD-80636.

It seems as though every time a new Mozart Requiem appears, it's based on a different edition, each revision claiming to be more "authentic" than the last. I suppose it sells records.

In this 2005 Telarc release from Donald Runnicles and the Atlanta Symphony, the performers play the work from the Robert D. Levin edition of 1993. As you know, when Mozart died he left over half of the Requiem unfinished, and his friend and former pupil, Franz Xavier Sussmayr, completed the work from the middle of the "Lacrimosa" to the end (perhaps with help). Ever since then, audiences have complained that the second half of the piece didn't exactly sound like Mozart. Well, surprise; it isn't. I suspect that for the purist, the easy answer to the dilemma is simply to stop at the end the "Lacrimosa" and forget about the rest. (Or stop somewhere in the middle of the "Lacrimosa" to be doubly sure that your Mozart is pure.)

In any case, Mr. Levin says he tried to improve upon Sussmayr's additions rather than replace them, writing, "The traditional version has been retained insofar as it agrees with the idiomatic Mozartian practice." He corrected a few sections and pared back others in order to hear the vocal parts better, and so forth. The results of all these editions never seem to sound much different to me, but I'm clearly a barbarian.

Runnicles adopts a steady tempo throughout, with very few dramatic dynamic contrasts, making for an enjoyably smooth Requiem, one that both avid Mozart fans and casual listeners alike should find readily accessible. Still, there is a "however." It was not long before that Nikolaus Harnoncourt also recorded the Requiem (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi), his interpretation sounding to my ears more vibrant and spirited, more emblazoned with fiery color, and done on period instruments. What's more, I think the DHM sonics were cleaner and more transparent, the massed voices, especially, sounding clearer than Telarc's.

So it's not as though this new Telarc has the field all to itself. Indeed, with so many competing Requiems available, it's hard to make a single recommendation. Certainly, Runnicles is in the running.


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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.

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa