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.

JJP

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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa