Mozart: Requiem / Butt, Dunedin Consort

Release Date: 3/25/2014
Label: Linn
Catalog Number: CKD449
Conductor: John Butt
Orchestra/Ensemble: Dunedin Consort
Number of Discs: 1

Physical Format:

Notes and Editorial Reviews
MOZART Requiem (ed. Levin). Adagio and Fugue in c, K 456 Charles Mackerras, cond; Susan Gritton (sop); Catherine Wyn-Rogers (alt); Timothy Robinson (ten); Peter Rose (bs); Scottish CO & Ch LINN 211 (54:48)

MOZART Requiem (ed. Süssmayr/Black). Misericordias Domini, K 222 John Butt, cond; Joanne Lunn (sop); Rowan Hellier (alt); Thomas Hobbs (ten); Matthew Brook (bs); Dunedin Consort LINN 449 (SACD: 61:39)

One might ask why the same record label is releasing two different recordings of Mozart’s Requiem within a month or two. The answer is that the Mackerras release is a reissue in Linn’s “echo” series (although it does not appear to be less expensive) while the Dunedin Consort recording is a new release.

Mackerras’s recording has received high praise, including here in Fanfare , where George Chien named it to his Want List in 2003. For those who haven’t been following completions of Mozart’s Requiem closely, Robert Levin’s edition might be described as “Süssmayr improved.” In essence, Levin took Süssmayr’s completion and used it as his point of departure, correcting its faults in instrumentation (sometimes too heavy), grammar (awkward voice leading, among other errors), and structure (sometimes unbalanced). Levin writes, “It is hoped that the new version honours Mozart’s spirit while allowing the listener to experience Mozart’s magnificent Requiem torso within the sonic framework of its historical tradition.” For those of us raised on Süssmayr, it can be a little shocking—the “Amen” fugue now concluding the Lacrymosa still throws me off—but it is largely terra cognita.

Mackerras’s recording has many of the same stylistic characteristics that we have learned to expect from his other late recordings of Mozart’s music. The score’s dramatic potential is not ignored, but one senses that Mackerras wanted to record a Requiem that would be more comforting than forbidding. It’s often more a whisper than a scream. Textures are clear and open, tempos are brisk, and articulation—amongst both the orchestra and the singers—is crisp, at times (for example, in the Lacrymosa) almost exaggeratedly so. This recording seems to have been strongly influenced by the period performance crowd, although the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays modern instruments. Paradoxically, this has the potential to make the music seem more modern—for example, the strange sequences of descending string lines that recur in the Recordare sound strange here. The soloists, while effective, are not operatic, and are not the stars of the show. (That’s not a requirement.) The chorus is well-prepared and sings in the approved British style; no one would mistake them for an Austrian group. The disc ends with a similarly lithe and terse performance of the Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, chosen, perhaps, because it was played at Herbert von Karajan’s funeral. It is a reasonable makeweight for what otherwise would have been a short disc. (The Requiem itself requires just under 47 minutes in this recording.)

Originally, the Mackerras disc was released as an SACD. This time, it is a just a conventional CD—not that this bothers me.

The SACD from the Dunedin Consort comes with the legend, “reconstruction of the first performance.” This is little more than a fancy way of saying that this is the Süssmayr completion in a new edition by David Black, with the performers reduced in number to what are likely to have been involved in the 1793 performance of the completed Requiem. The chorus contains just 16 singers (4:4:4:4) including the soloists, who also sing in the choral passages. The orchestra is comprised of 11 violins (six firsts and five seconds), four violas, three cellos, two double basses, two corni di Bassetto, two bassoons, three trombones, two trumpets, one timpani player, and (surprise!) a fortepiano. The SACD also includes the opening Requiem aeternam and the Kyrie in an even more scaled-down performance. This is because these two movements are the only two that are likely to have been played at a Mass for the composer in St. Michael’s Church five days after his death. In between, we get the Misericordias Domini , an early work, yet one that appears to have been performed in St. Michael’s in the last year of Mozart’s life. It is not a very strong work, but it makes a sensible coupling for the Requiem, as both works are in the same key (D Minor), and both are associated with St. Michael’s, suggesting that they were performed by similar forces.

This is a more dramatic performance of the Requiem than Mackerras’s, despite its smaller proportions. Movements such as the Confutatis and the Lacrymosa are filled with the terror and the sorrow of the Last Judgment, and elsewhere, the sense of resignation and perhaps even comfort implied in Mackerras’s reading is absent. The soloists sing with more character, and in a more operatic style. (Tenor Thomas Hobbs makes particularly attractive sounds.) Again, the Scottish chorus will not readily be mistaken for an ensemble from the mainland, but it does fine work. Mackerras’s chorus is a bit better, however, because it produces are more blended sound—a function of its larger numbers, in large part. (Both choruses are dominated by the youthful-sounding sopranos.) The instrumentalists are capable without being really memorable, and conductor John Butt keeps the music moving along swiftly without contributing any special insights or interpretive surprises. In many ways, despite its reduced scale, this is a rather conservative performance of the Requiem, an impression reinforced by the use of Süssmayr’s completion.

I like both performances, although I am not as enthusiastic about Mackerras’s as Chien was more than a decade ago. (I like my Mozart Requiem to be more like Sauerbraten or even goulash than haggis.) I prefer Mackerras slightly to Butt, although Butt’s chamber-like version has better soloists and certainly is enjoyable overall. Admirers of this work probably will want to add both recordings to their collection. Neither is the final word, however.

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