Mozart: Requiem (CD review)

Karita Mattila, Rachel Harnisch, Sara Mingardo, Michael Schade, Bryn Terfel; Schwedischer Rundfunkchor; Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. DG 289 463 181-2.

When I first put this 1999 disc on, some twenty years ago, it had already been a long while since I had last heard the Mozart Requiem played by anything but a period-instruments band or a chamber group. I guess I was expecting to hear something a little old-fashioned in a full orchestral setting, and I wasn't disappointed. What I wasn't expecting, however, was to be as satisfied with the performance as I was. True, it's nothing like Mozart might have heard in his own day, had he lived to hear it. Yet under Abbado it is quite compassionate, effortlessly dignified, and, in some moments, even sublime.

Abbado uses the familiar Sussmayr edition, with, as the booklet notes, "modifications by Franz Beyer and Robert Levin." But the booklet doesn't tell us what those modifications are. In any case, Mozart only wrote the first couple of sections before he died, leaving the rest in sketchy form at best.

Claudio Abbado
In Abbado's hands, I can't remember an interpretation pointing up the differences so vividly between the parts Mozart wrote and the later, added parts. The final few portions are positively mundane, almost lifeless, by comparison to the work's opening movements, and through no fault of Abbado. Indeed, it is because of Abbado's respectful conducting of this work that the deficiencies of the closing pages show up at all.

That said, this is a performance in which most things fall readily into place, perhaps sounding "old-fashioned" in the process: a little too polite and maybe a bit too sedate, yes, yet in a good sense if you are in the mood for that sort of presentation. And do I even have to mention that the Berlin Philharmonic play gloriously and that the soloists and choir respond equally well?

DG's sound is about what I expected, too, but more so. It is big overall, like the performance, warm in the midrange, slightly veiled, a little overly bright in the high strings, wide in stereo spread, and, surprise, reasonably deep in the bass. I don't usually like live recordings, as this one is from the Salzburg Festival, but at least the DG engineers kept the audience noise to a minimum. A reality check comparing this new release to a disc using smaller instrumental forces, however, revealed a startling difference in clarity and focus, favoring the smaller group, of course. Nevertheless, the grave forward momentum and well-timed rhythms of this new Abbado effort place it among the better choices for a full, modern-orchestra version of the music.

Two shorter pieces, "Betracht dies Herz" KV 42 and "Laudate Dominum" KV 339, the latter most sweetly rendered, round out the program.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:

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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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa