RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘It is Butt’s minute attention to details that makes this such a thrilling performance’
David Threasher embraces a new approach to the Mozart Requiem we know and love
Mozart Requiem, K626 (including reconstruction of first performance, December 10, 1791). Misericordias Domini, K222 Joanne Lunn sop Rowan Hellier mez Thomas Hobbs ten Matthew Brook bass Dunedin Consort / John Butt Linn F Í CKD449 (62’ • DDD • T/t). Also available as an MP3, CD Quality, Studio Master (96kHz) or Studio Master (192kHz) download
Purely on grounds of performance alone, this is one of the finest Mozart Requiems of recent years. John Butt brings to Mozart the microscopic care and musicological acumen that have made his Bach and Handel recordings so thought-provoking and satisfying.
As with all of Butt’s recordings, however, this Mozart Requiem is something of an event. The occasion is the publication of a new edition – by David Black, a senior research fellow at Homerton College, Cambridge – of the ‘traditional’ completion of this tantalisingly unfinished work, of which this is the first recording. Süssmayr’s muchmaligned filling-in of the Requiem torso has lately enjoyed a resurgence in its acceptance by the scholarly community –
not that it has ever been supplanted in the hearts and repertoires of choral societies and music lovers around the world. The vogue for stripped-back and reimagined modern completions is on the wane and Süssmayr’s attempt, for all its perceived inconsistencies and inaccuracies, is once again in favour in the crucible of musicological criticism. After all, as Black points out in the preface to his score, ‘Whatever the shortcomings of Süssmayr’s completion, it is the only document that may transmit otherwise lost directions or written material from Mozart’.
Black has returned to the earliest sources of the work: Mozart’s incomplete ‘working’ score, Süssmayr’s ‘delivery’ score and the first printed edition of 1800, which even so soon after the work’s genesis was already manifesting accretions and errors that place us at a further remove from Mozart’s intentions. For all the textual emendations this engenders, the actual difference as far as the general listener is concerned is likely to be minimal; while we Requiemophiles quiver with delight at each clarified marking, to all intents and purposes what is presented here is the Mozart Requiem as it has been known and loved for more than two centuries.
It is Butt’s minute attention to these details, though, that makes this such a thrilling performance. He fields a choir and band of dimensions similar to the forces at the first performance of the complete work on January 2, 1793, little over a year after Mozart’s death, and the effect is, not unexpectedly, to wipe away the impression of a ‘thick, grey crust’ that was felt so palpably by earlier commentators on the work. Listen, for example, to Mozart’s miraculous counterpoint at ‘Te decet hymnus’ in the Introit or Süssmayr’s rather more clumsy imitation in the ‘Recordare’, and hear how refreshingly the air circulates around these potentially stifling textures.
Butt’s outlook on the work is apparent from the very beginning: the gait of the string quavers is more deliberate than limping in the first bar, and this purposefulness returns in movements such as the ‘Recordare’ and ‘Hostias’. The extremes of monumentality and meditativeness in the Requiem are represented perhaps by Bernstein and Herreweghe respectively; Butt steers a course
14 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2014
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