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.
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: