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Mozart: Requiem / Butt, Dunedin Consort

Mozart / Dunedin Consort / Butt / Lunn / Hellier
Release Date: 03/25/2014 
Label:  Linn Records   Catalog #: 449   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Rowan HellierJoanne LunnThomas HobbsMatthew Brook
Conductor:  John Butt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dunedin Consort
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MOZART Requiem. Misericordias Domini in d, K 222 (K 205a). Reconstruction of Music Performed at the Requiem Mass for Mozart 10 December 1791 John Butt, cond; Joanne Lunn (sop); Rowan Hellier (alt); Thomas Hobbs (ten); Matthew Brook (bs); Dunedin Consort (period instruments) LINN 449 (SACD: 61:41 Text and Translation)

Don’t let the above headnote lead you Read more to believe that this is yet another alternative to the familiar Süssmayr completion of Mozart’s Requiem. It’s really not, at least not in any significant way you’re likely to notice. In fact, the Requiem as we know it, with Süssmayr’s contribution, is performed intact from beginning to end, albeit in a new edition by David Black. This is advertised on the track listing flyleaf as a “reconstruction of the first public performance, in the completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr given at the Jahn-Saal, Vienna, 2 January, 1793.”

I’m not aware that reporters were there or that someone videotaped the event, but if I read John Butt’s liner notes correctly, the “reconstruction” aspects of this performance have to do more with matters of execution than they do with any substantive deviations from Süssmayr’s additions. For example, Butt explains that it was customary in the performance of choral works at the time for the vocal soloists to be members of the choir, and to sing with the chorus when not called upon to sing individually, as opposed to later practice in which the soloists became a discrete aggregate, sitting there mute until each singer popped up like a Jack- or Jill-in-the-Box (my description, not Butt’s) to sing his or her solo, and then sit back down until his or her turn came again.

Also—and here’s where those following the score may detect a minor difference or two—Black’s new edition offers a kind of back-to-the-future look at Süssmayr’s handiwork, cleansing it of the touch-ups added during the 19th-century. Thus, what is performed here is not so much a new edition, as it is a best-guess old edition which returns us to Süssmayr’s original completion as it was heard at that first concert in 1793. To quote Butt, “This provides an ideal opportunity to consider how the work may actually have sounded [emphasis mine] at its very first performance.” Again, it’s well to remember that neither Reuters nor CNN was there.

Of a more speculative nature is the Reconstruction of Music Performed at the Requiem Mass for Mozart 10 December 1791 . It’s a matter of record that a Requiem Mass was held for Mozart at St. Michael’s Church five days after his death. It is not a matter of record that some or all of the then extant parts of the composer’s Requiem were performed during the service.

Clearly, at less than a week after Mozart’s death, whatever existed of the score at that point would not have been in a performable state. Even some sections generally believed to be entirely by Mozart, such as the Kyrie, had only been completed in sketch form, and were hastily orchestrated, pre-Süssmayr, by unknown hands.

One possibility is that only the Introit and Kyrie were performed at the St. Michael’s service, and then only by a small chorus of eight voices accompanied by organ filling in a simplified reduction of the orchestral parts. A small contingent of strings may also have doubled the organ. This is all, of course, fairly hypothetical, and Butt acknowledges as much in his note with escape-hatch phrases such as “there is an outside chance,” and “there is every incentive to imagine.” Butt’s imagination thus lends credence to the so-titled Reconstruction of Music Performed at the Requiem Mass for Mozart 10 December 1791 , which is a realization of just the Introit and Kyrie with a small contingent of strings, single wind, two basset horns, and trombones, but no trumpets or timpani, and a complement of only eight singers, four of whom do double duty as choristers and soloists.

Finally, as filler, Butt gives us Mozart’s Offertory setting, Misericordias Domini , K 222 (K 205a). Composed in 1775, this short piece bears no relation to the Requiem, other than it being in the same key of D Minor. Mozart tossed it off while in Munich overseeing production of his opera La finta giardiniera . In a subsequent letter to Padre Martini describing the circumstances surrounding the work’s composition, Mozart wrote, “A few days before my departure the Elector expressed a desire to hear some of my contrapuntal compositions. I was therefore obliged to write this motet in a great hurry, in order to have time to have the score copied for his Highness and to have the parts written out and thus enable it to be performed during the Offertory at High Mass on the following Sunday.”

The Misericordias Domini is not one of Mozart’s great liturgical masterpieces, as the much later Ave verum corpus is, but it’s a respectable effort on the part of the 19-year-old composer, and it hasn’t received that much attention on record, so it’s a welcome addition to this interesting program.

After reviewing a successful and satisfying performance of Handel’s Esther by John Butt and the Dunedin Consort in 36:2, I found myself confronted by a problematic new release of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos from this same source in 37:4.

Happily, I can report that this new Mozart Requiem is both terrifying and terrific. The performance is distinguished by exceptionally well-defined, crisp, and transparent articulation in both the orchestral playing and the choral singing, with the result being clarity of textures and diction seldom heard even in other slimmed-down period instrument performances. The effect is further enhanced by a recording of atmospheric openness and luminous lucidity.

Butt achieves his results with four excellent vocal soloists, separate from the main group, plus three singers per ripieno part for a total of 12 choristers. By the standards of some period instrument ensembles, Butt’s Dunedin Consort contingent is not small. Six each of first and second violins, with slightly fewer numbers in the lower strings, are joined by the basset horns, bassoons, trumpets, trombones, and timpani scored for in Süssmayr’s orchestration. But the combination of Butt’s forward-moving tempos, razor-sharp delivery, and possibly the cleaning-up and clarifying of details in Black’s edition make for a performance that’s tremendously energized in the fast movements and deeply moving in the slow ones.

Butt makes the point in his note that after all is said and done, Süssmayr is the one composer to furnish a completion of the Requiem who was closest to Mozart and who knew him best. It is therefore Süssmayr’s completion that still has the greatest claim to legitimacy, and with Black’s polishing of the score and this fantastic performance of it, I have to say Butt is right.

I will now state unconditionally that this is the Mozart Requiem to have, and I won’t even qualify it by saying “among period instrument versions.” It simply goes to the very top of the list of any performance of the work I’ve heard. Urgently recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Requiem in D minor, K 626 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Rowan Hellier (Alto), Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Thomas Hobbs (Tenor),
Matthew Brook (Baritone)
Conductor:  John Butt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dunedin Consort
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
Misericordias Domini, K 222 (205a) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Rowan Hellier (Alto), Joanne Lunn (Soprano), Thomas Hobbs (Tenor),
Matthew Brook (Baritone)
Conductor:  John Butt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dunedin Consort
Period: Classical 
Written: 1775; Munich, Germany 

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