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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Requiem, K. 626

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christine Brewer, soprano; Ruxandra Donose, soprano; John Tessier, tenor; Eric Owens, bass; Donald Runnicles conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus
Conducted By Vladimir Ashkenazy

Review By John Shinners
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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Requiem, K. 626

CD Number: Telarc SACD-60636

 

A decade after Telarc's premiere recording of Robert D. Levin's new edition of Mozart's Requiem by Martin Pearlman and the Boston Baroque, the company now offers a second account of his thoughts on the work that Mozart left unfinished, this time with Donald Runnicles conducting the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus.

Because the Requiem has become so familiar, it is easy to forget just how little of it Mozart actually completed before his death. His student Franz Xaver Süssmayr said that Mozart made it only about halfway through the work, stopping a few bars into the Lacrimosa and leaving the opening Requiem aeternam and Kyrie incomplete. Süssmayr completed the Mass, based on the few sketches Mozart left behind and, presumably, on conversations with his dying friend. Over the last two hundred years a number of conductors and musicologists have had a crack at revising Süssmayr's version. In his 1993 edition, Levin honored tradition by preserving Süssmayr's basic ideas but scrubbing them of elements that were not “idiomatically Mozartean. "He departed from Süssmayr by lightening his orchestrations, and more significantly, composing a new, very satisfying, fugal Amen (based on Mozart's sketches) for the end of the Lacrimosa and extending the two fugues on "Hosanna" in the Sanctus and Benedictus to twice their length in Süssmayr's edition.

Given that Telarc has always been in the vanguard of excellent sound reproduction, it is no surprise that it now turns its technical expertise to producing excellent SACD recordings. The differences in the two sound worlds of this hybrid SACD are striking. The standard stereo of the CD is just fine, but the SACD surround sound adds a very convincing sense of live presence, lending a warm bloom to the soloists and sounding especially lifelike in the Requiem's softer moments. This full-bodied sound is almost too much in the passages for full chorus, where it can be a little overwhelming. The chamber chorus itself is quite large: 68 voices versus the 21 singers on Pearlman's recording with the Boston Baroque. These numbers combine with the resonance of the SACD engineering to muddy the textures — and the diction — in the forte passages for chorus, my main complaint about this recording.

That aside, Runnicles and his Atlanta musicians offer a solid, engaging performance here. His four soloists sing with passion and skill (noteworthy here: Eric Owens's powerful Tuba mirum), and the chorus — as you expect of choristers trained in the traditions of the late Robert Shaw — is excellent. Appropriately for a requiem, I find the quieter passages of the recording particularly affecting, such as the second half of the Confutatis or the Lacrimosa. Still, there is apt fury in the Diesirae and real vocal drama in the full-chorus fugues that cap each section of the Requiem.

Pearlman, working with much smaller choral forces and a period orchestra, produces clearer vocal and instrumental textures, which enhance the leaner lines of Levin's orchestrations.  But this new recording is noteworthy for its sense of drama and the richness and warmth of the lush SACD sound.

 

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