Notes and Editorial Reviews
Requiem in d
Gerd Schaller, cond; Marie Fajtová (sop); Franziska Gottwald (alt); Tomislav Mužek (ten); Albert Pesendorfer (bs); Munich P Ch; Festiva P
PROFIL 12061 (74:23
Text and Translation)
Reviewing a Chandos release of Saint-Saëns’s Requiem in 28:3, I confessed to giggling out loud the first time I came across the piece on an LP in a used record shop. Somehow, it tickled my funny bone to think of Saint-Saëns, a composer who trained a cynical eye and tongue on
the Church, as having written a Requiem. But I bought the recording anyway and discovered an absolutely gorgeous, deeply moving work. Since then, I’ve come upon a number of other Requiems by 19th-century Romantic composers who would seem like improbable candidates to have set a Mass for the dead to music, and yet they did.
In researching this topic, I stumbled upon a fascinating website, requiemsurvey.org, which purports to have cataloged every Requiem ever written from AD 1000 to the present. The total number is a staggering 5,024. But the site breaks them down by periods, and also allows you to search alphabetically by composer. Clicking on a displayed entry links to a page containing the composer’s biography and details on the specific Requiem, such as when it was written, and most usefully, any recordings of it. Whoever assembled this put a lot of time and effort into it.
Looking at just the 19th century—1800 to 1899, there are 1,381 Requiems. These are further broken down into two periods, 1800–1849 and 1850–1899. Suppé’s Requiem, composed in 1855, falls into the latter period, so refining the search to that range alone, one finds 584 Requiems. Among them, just a few of the more recognizable names that pop up are Franz Lachner, Spohr, Friedrich Kiel, Massenet, Rheinberger, Gounod, Reinecke, Gouvy, Bottesini, Stanford, and the list goes on and on and on. I should add that not every entry on this site is a full-blown Latin Requiem. Some, like Brahms’s
, are based on texts other than the traditional Latin liturgy, while others are just individual movements or fragments of uncompleted works. Still, it’s amazing to see the number of composers we wouldn’t necessarily associate with this genre who were drawn to it for one reason or another.
The liner note to this album makes that abundantly clear in its opening sentences: “A Requiem from the king of operetta? What on earth would that be like?
pressed into a liturgical corset?” At least author Ursula Adamski-Störmer has a sense of humor. So entertaining is her essay, not to mention informative, that I worried I might find her narrative more interesting than the Requiem it describes, but for the fact that I was already familiar with the piece from another recording.
The first and perhaps only question to be asked is “Why?” Why would Suppé, a composer who devoted himself almost exclusively to operetta—or so we’ve been told—turn his attention to producing a large-scale and very serious 75-minute Requiem Mass? Well, according to Adamski-Störmer, as a boy, Suppé received musical instruction from two men who came from entirely different worlds. Giovanni Cigalla, a church musician, tutored Suppé in counterpoint and the sacred style; while Giuseppe Ferrari, a band master, instructed the impressionable youth in the popular styles of the day.
Perplexed by which way to turn, Suppé did a good deal of soul searching, which eventually led him to Vienna and to further study with Simon Sechter, a pupil of Salieri, and Ignaz Seyfried. It was the latter who introduced Suppé to the theater and to conductor Franz Pokorny. The two hit it off immediately and became a team—Pokorny as the principal conductor of the Theater an der Wien, and Suppé, from 1845, as the company’s principal composer. Together they embarked on a path that would eventually lead to the production of hundreds of operas, operettas, musical comedies, fairy-tale plays, and melodramas. But Pokorny never lived to see the full fruition of Suppé’s bounty, for he died in 1850. Adamski-Störmer proposes Pokorny’s death as the event that occasioned Suppé’s Requiem. Perhaps that’s true, but if so, one has to wonder why the work didn’t come to be until five years after the fact and, more significantly, why Suppé dedicated it to “His Holiness Pope Pius IX.” Those questions remain unanswered.
This 2012 live recording emanating from Erbrach’s Abteikirche in Bavaria is not the Requiem’s first time on disc. A performance of it by Michel Corboz leading the Lisbon Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra was recorded by Virgin Classics in 2003. I don’t have that recording, but I do have another one from 1994 on Novalis with Edmond de Stoutz conducting the Zurich Chorus and Chamber Orchestra. That version is spread over two discs, perhaps because in the 1990s a work approaching 80 minutes was thought to exceed the time limit of a single CD. In any case, even if the Novalis version were still available, which it’s probably not, it pales in comparison, both as a performance and as a recording, to this new Profil release.
If you’re into Requiems, I guarantee you that Suppé’s will not disappoint. Forget everything you may have ever heard by Suppé; this is a work from some deep reservoir of pent up passion in the composer’s core being to write sacred music. The model is clearly Mozart’s Requiem, but the musical language, idioms, and style are fully of their period, and then some. Suppé’s setting of the
gives new meaning to the term
Sturm und Drang
. Hyper-charged drama gives way later in the Sequence to a grand, imperial processional in the
and to melting entreaties in the
. There’s not a single measure in the entire work that doesn’t hold this listener spellbound.
Adamski-Störmer proclaims in her album note, “No Verdi without Suppé.” She’s right. I might dare to go even further and declare that Suppé’s Requiem, as a Requiem, is superior to Verdi’s. But even if it’s not—disregarding Berlioz’s contribution to the genre which, I think, is a special, out-of-the-mainstream case—there’s no question in my mind that of the Requiems I know, Suppé’s is the finest and most powerful between Mozart’s and Verdi’s.
The performance captured on this disc is stunning, even thrilling. It gains from the advantage of the spacious, open church acoustic without suffering the disadvantage of long reverb with its consequent muddying of the sonic image. Every orchestral detail is clear, as are the words sung by the singers. This is one terrific recording of a terrific performance of a terrific piece of music. It may well end up on my 2013 Want List, and it definitely belongs on yours.
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Works on This Recording
Requiem by Franz von Suppé
Tomislav Muzek (Tenor),
Franziska Gottwald (Alto),
Marie Fajtová (Soprano),
Albert Pesendorfer (Bass)
Munich Philharmonic Choir,
Written: 1855; Vienna, Austria
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