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Mozart: Requiem; Sussmayr / Armstrong, Jette, Et Al


Release Date: 05/27/2008 
Label:  Avie   Catalog #: 47   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Wolfgang Amadeus MozartFranz Xaver Süssmayer
Performer:  Jennifer LarmoreEric OwensMaria JetteJames Taylor
Conductor:  Andreas DelfsAnton Armstrong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul Chamber OrchestraSt. Olaf Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

There are so many stories associated with Mozart’s final and unfinished masterpiece that it is at times difficult, if not impossible, to know which one(s) to believe. What is certain is that the Requiem was commissioned by Graf Franz von Walsegg-Stupach, who wanted to have it performed in memory of his recently deceased wife, and at the same time, pass it off as his own work.

After Mozart’s death his widow was—to put it mildly—in dire financial straits, so Constanze decided to shop around for someone competent enough to finish the task and allow her to collect the rather substantial fee that the Count had offered her husband to write the work. Mozart’s pupil and colleague Franz Eybler was the first approached, but after
Read more reviewing the sketches, he declined, so Constanze corralled another of her late husband’s charges, Franz Süssmayr, who accepted the challenge. So for years, it was the Süssmayr edition that was the mainstay for choral groups amateur and professional, large and small.

However, as the years passed, a number of other additions cropped up, specifically those of Franz Beyer, Duncan Druce, Carl Maunder, and Robert Levin. These have been recorded by Sir Neville Marriner (Beyer), Roger Norrington (Druce), Christopher Hogwood (Maunder), and Helmuth Rilling (Levin). Minutes before beginning this critique, I opened a parcel from Telarc and yet another recording of the Levin edition by Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus tumbled out.

The choice of the Süssmayr edition for this Limestone release should be obvious even to a village idiot after reading the heading. In fact, I’m quite surprised that some enterprising conductor hasn’t considered this coupling previously. It’s as obvious as the Hyperion pairing of Handel’s Water Music with that of Telemann. However, while both the Handel and Telemann compositions reflect high degrees of competence, the same cannot be said for this Mozart/Süssmayr release, so that disparity may be the overriding rationale that has prevented this coupling from appearing previously.

While Mozart’s setting of the Office of the Dead is arguably the finest setting of the text before Verdi’s monumental Requiem for Manzoni, Süssmayr’s effort— in German, lacking soloists, and lasting just under 18 minutes—is deficient in inspiration and hamstrung by quotidian ability. Neither does it plumb the depths of human emotion. In Süssmayr’s defense, it may have been that he shied away from what the uncredited annotator termed “the pathos and vision of his master [Mozart].” Süssmayr’s work is not without its moments, though, as the simply cast Offertorium and Agnus Dei are quite touching in a sweet and sentimental way.

The sterling reputation of the St. Olaf Choir is founded in the untiring quest for excellence of Paul Christiansen and his father, F. Melius Christiansen, who founded the ensemble at St. Olaf College in Minnesota in 1911. The ensemble’s annual Christmas broadcasts on NPR (via Public Radio International) are much-awaited events that draw thousands of listeners, not only here in the United States but also from abroad by satellite. The choir’s present director, Anton Armstrong, has prepared his personnel well, and they will give any choral group—and I do mean any choral group—a run for their money in this release. Using appropriate Germanic Latin (kvee-tolis as opposed to kwee-tolis), their singing is flawless, not to mention cleanly and crisply articulated, charged with energy, and replete with sentience for the text. The solo quartet, headlined by Maria Jette and buoyed by the exquisite voice of Jennifer Larmore, is one of the finest I have heard assembled for the Mozart. Bass Eric Owens’s stentorian pronouncement of the Last Judgment in the Tuba mirum gave me goose bumps, not just the first time I listened, but also on ensuing auditions. Andreas Delfs extracts exceptional, sympathetic, and precise (but never mechanical) playing from his orchestra, underscoring why the St. Paul ensemble is among the finest not only in the United States, but also in the world.

In spite of the questionable and decidedly uninspired contributions of Süssmayr to Mozart’s final masterpiece, this is Mozart for the ages, a virile and potent alternative for those of you who have yet to embrace the period-instrument movement. Even if you already have Marriner, Rilling, Norrington, and/or Hogwood on your shelves, you must get this, for it is truly a Desert Island disc!

-- Michael Carter, FANFARE

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
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Works on This Recording

1.
Requiem in D minor, K 626 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano), Eric Owens (Baritone), Maria Jette (Soprano),
James Taylor (Tenor)
Conductor:  Andreas Delfs
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul Chamber Orchestra,  St. Olaf Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: 1791; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 11/2003 
2.
German Requiem in Bb major by Franz Xaver Süssmayer
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano), Eric Owens (Baritone), Maria Jette (Soprano),
James Taylor (Tenor)
Conductor:  Anton Armstrong
Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Paul Chamber Orchestra,  St. Olaf Choir
Period: Classical 
Written: Austria 
Date of Recording: 05/2004 
Notes: This selection is a stereo recording. 

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