Mozart: Requiem (SACD review)
Given that Mozart never finished his final composition, the Requiem in D minor, K. 626, we'll never know with absolute certainty how it might have come out. In the meantime, everybody and his second-uncle Bob have produced their own version of what it might have been like had Mozart completed it. Of course, the earliest and most-popular of the completions is the one by Mozart's own assistant, Franz Xaver Sussmayr, carried out at Mozart's death, and that's the one we hear on the present disc from Maestro John Butt and his period-instruments performers, the Dunedin Consort (named after a Scottish castle). However, Butt and his colleagues attempt to go one further than most other conductors and orchestras by not only offering a historically informed performance but one they claim comes as close as possible to the first public performance of the Sussmayr score, performed at a benefit concert for Mozart's widow, Constanze, in January 1793, just over a year after the composer's death.
Whether a reconstruction of the music for that early event will appeal to everyone is another story. There are a lot of people who simply resist all period performances from all period bands, and there will be yet more people who will undoubtedly resist this one in particular, given that it utilizes far more-reduced choral and orchestral forces than used in most other presentations. The result is a leaner, tauter, and obviously less-grand Requiem than one usually hears. This isn't Giulini or Davis we're talking about. Not even Marriner, Herreweghe, Hogwood, or Gardiner. Be prepared.
Now, here's the thing: Despite the smaller forces, instead of the performance sounding more intimate, the miking is such that the group seems bigger than they probably really are, negating some of the intimacy that could have attended the event. This is mainly so in the bigger passages, though, and the purely orchestral and solo sections are fine.
What's more, despite Butt taking some speedy tempos on occasion and creating some heady contrasts, the entire performance still seems fairly conventional. Among the segments that stood out for me were the "Dies Irae" for its menacing spirit; the "Tuba Mirum," "Recordare," and "Lux Aeterna" for their sweet freshness; and the "Lacrimosa" for its earnest bearing. The rest of the reading sounds OK but not necessarily more compelling than anyone else's.
In addition to the Requiem the program contains Mozart's Misericordias Domini in D minor, K. 222, "Offertorium de tempore," recently identified by researcher David Black as one of the composer's final works and using basically the same forces as the Requiem. And we also get two reconstructions of music performed at Mozart's own Requiem Mass of December 10, 1791, five days after his death: the "Requiem Aeterna" and "Kyrie." I actually enjoyed them more than I did the Requiem itself.
Philip Hobbs produced and recorded this hybrid stereo-multichannel SACD for Linn Records in September 2013 at Greyfriar's Kirk, Edinburgh, UK. I listened in the SACD two-channel stereo mode and found the sound generally good, if not quite up to Linn's highest standards. It displays some very smooth, clear, natural orchestral sonics, with a modest sense of presence, air, and dimensionality in the instruments. The choir and soloists, however, tend to get a bit too bright for my taste and a little congested, too, in the loudest passages. The hall's inherent ambient bloom may have gotten in the way of the cleanest vocals, I don't know. In any case, it's not a huge concern and may even favor more reticent playback systems. The miking, as I said earlier, is also a tad close and the dynamics quite wide, making the smallish ensemble seem larger, though not necessarily more imposing, for it.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
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.