60159 Mozart Requiem: Always room for another fine Mozart Requiem

“Always room for another fine Mozart Requiem.”
Published on January 12, 2010

MOZART: Requiem – Julia Kleiter, soprano/ Gerhild Romberger, alto/ Daniel Sans, tenor/ Klaus Mertens, bass/ Mainz Bach Choir/ L’arpa festante Munich/ Ralf Otto, bass – NCA Multichannel SACD 60159 215, 50:23 **** [Distr. by Naxos]:

Mozart’s Requiem will never tire of new recordings. One of the reasons is that so many new completions will undoubtedly continue to come down the pike. Would-be arrangers are simply too tempted; many people, despite the work’s torso status, consider it to be one of the greatest pieces ever written. To add one’s own pen to the notes of the immortal Wolfgang appeals like few other works. This performance, using the work of Robert Levin, strikes a fine middle ground.

To Levin’s credit, his version is now recorded on at least five discs: Helmuth Rilling (who commissioned it), Bernard Labadie, Charles Mackerras, Martin Pearlman, and this current issue. Mackerras is also Super Audio. The only one that I positively can’t stand is the Pearlman, but that is not Levin’s fault. He is of the editors who have chosen to beef up and correct some of the errant parts of the Sussmayr version, itself a compendium of work by at least three other composers. He is fairly successful, though I am not sure that his corrections add that much to the integrity of the work. One of his transitions (to the concluding “Hosanna” at the end of the Benedictus) is not convincing, and those used to Sussmayr’s orchestration will find themselves missing a few things that they are used to hearing. Nevertheless, it is a creditable effort, though Mozart would have had other things to say I am sure.

Some of these “finishers” have done far more drastic things to the work, but if one is honest it must be admitted that the Sussmayr is in fact the “authentic” arrangement of the piece, as John Eliot Gardiner concluded some year ago on his recording. The notes to this release make the argument that Sussmayr really did compose much of the non-Mozart material without the composer’s input, but I have always found that hard to believe; Sussmayr never wrote anything else like this, and the level of inspiration is simply too high. Just because we have no clues of what Mozart may have left behind doesn’t mean that he didn’t.

This performance is very fine, though some of the faster choral work is slightly off-kilter compared with some other recordings. But this happens in just a few places, and I am happy to report that the choir itself is a substantial size, even for a period performance. The tempos are fairly mainstream, the clarity quite high, and the spiritual aspects first rate. There are too many “Requiems” to point out an absolute first; Bernstein, Bohm, Runnicles, Hogwood (in the severe Maunder edition), are all good representatives of a variety of approaches. But this one sounds very good, and is well worth the expense, especially if you are looking for second or third recordings. The SACD sound is focused primarily to the front, with nice spread across the middle.

-- Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition 12.01.2010