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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart 
Requiem K626
Marie Arnet, Anna Stéphany, Andrew Kennedy, and Darren Jeffery
Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus

Review By Phil Gold

 

  You want criticism? I'll give you criticism! This disc is only 50 minutes and 35 seconds long. There's not much else to complain about here.

Sir Colin Davis has been a top recommendation for the Mozart Requiem since his BBC Symphony recording in 1967. This, his third recording, is of a live performance at the Barbican in London. It benefits from a high resolution multi-channel recording and is available at bargain price as a hybrid SACD.

Sir Colin eschews the various new revisions to Süssmayer's completion of Mozart's unfinished masterpiece and ignores the recent trend toward original instrument performance practice. He opts instead for full orchestra and large chorus, and opts for huge dynamics and fast tempi. It brings to mind Carlo Maria Guilini's famous recording of the Verdi Requiem in its operatic intensity. The young singers hold up splendidly.

This is a performance in full flood, the type you would never capture in a recording studio. The choir is magnificent and full of rich color, as is the orchestral playing. It is not only amazing in itself, but all the more astonishing given the conductor's age. He was 80 at the time. Davis has always been a superb Mozartean, and his career has been steeped in opera and choral work. This is by a good margin the best of his three Requiem recordings, musically and sonically. The purist may object, but if you are going to play it with a full modern orchestra--a big if--this is the way to do it. Davis captures the power and fury of Mozart that so enthralled Beethoven. He takes extraordinary risks with his demands on the choir in particular, and they never let him down. Oh I wish I could have been there!

Davis and the LSO put Harnoncourt's much acclaimed 2004 SACD [harmonia mundi 82876-58705-2] to shame. Harnoncourt is thoughtful and intelligent with great control of his smaller orchestra and choir, but his equally dramatic playing lacks the natural flow and perfect phrasing that distinguishes the finest Mozart interpreters. Davis has always had these qualities, and he seems to improve with age.

The massive dynamics are captured in scintillating rich sound but the recording balance is not always perfect. Some parts of the choir are lower in volume than I expected, one soloist a little more distant than the others, but we must remember this is a live performance. The lower strings of the orchestra are not captured with ideal clarity--a bit too reverberant for my taste--and sometimes they overshadow the other instruments. All in all, these minor imperfections are a price I gladly pay for the thrill of this white-hot live performance. We should be grateful the audience is absolutely silent throughout.

 

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