LSO Live – Colin Davis Conducts Mozart’s Requiem

0 of 5 stars

Requiem, K626 [completed Süssmayr]

Marie Arnet (soprano)
Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano)
Andrew Kennedy (tenor)
Darren Jeffrey (bass)

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Recorded in Barbican Hall, London, on 30 September & 3 October 2007

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: February 2008
Duration: 51 minutes



Sir Simon Rattle, somewhat mischievously, has mentioned Mozart’s “Requiem” in the same breath as Elgar’s Third Symphony when discussing works that have been completed after their composers’ deaths. He has a point: in both cases other hands weaved together sketches and composed significant amounts of new material before the works could be performed. Elgar’s Third is the composer’s sketches elaborated by Anthony Payne; but Mozart’s “Requiem” is less clear-cut. Mozart finished, in various states, only the first six movements. The rest was composed by a number of others, ultimately his pupil Süssmayr. This became the standard version, but in recent times there have been many alternative editions and completions, some quite radical, so it is important to know what is being used. We are left to guess, however, with Sir Colin Davis’s LSO Live recording. One can only assume, from John Warrack’s booklet note, and the evidence of ears, that it is Süssmayr’s completion. (This was confirmed at the two Barbican Hall concerts – Ed.)

Davis, in his third recording of Mozart’s “Requiem”, conducts a big-boned yet finely nuanced reading. It is very much a concert-hall performance, at times highly theatrical, offering much to admire and savour; but, by taking the work so emphatically outside of its church context, Davis is not quite able to capture its intimate sacred essence.

Unashamedly refusing to move with ‘historically informed’ times, Davis employs a full London Symphony Orchestra. The orchestral sonorities are rewardingly rich and sumptuous, and rarely over-indulged, but at times sound too cloying for Mozart’s opaque writing. Unlike his recently released “Messiah”, which benefited from a crack professional chamber choir, Davis uses the more-in-number London Symphony Chorus. This inevitably results in a lack of clarity, but the impeccably drilled LSC compensates with high-precision consonants, near-faultless tuning and exhilarating dynamism. A tranquil, sombre opening underpinned with beautiful violin-playing (the two sections are arranged antiphonally) is followed by a terrifying account of the ‘Dies irae’. Erupting like a ferocious whirlwind, the astonishingly athletic attack from the combined might of chorus and orchestra, cut across with superbly articulated, laser-like trumpets, will leave you quaking in your shoes.

The four soloists are young talents who blend remarkably well as a team (in welcome contrast to many other versions) but individually their voices often lack confidence and charisma. Darren Jeffery struggles to project at the start of the ‘Tuba mirum’, while Marie Arnet lacks poise, not helped by Davis’s uncharacteristically driven pacing. ‘Rex tremendae’ has an appropriately magisterial swagger, empowered by full-blooded choral singing, and the ‘Confutatis’ compellingly contrasts the menacing men’s voices and muscular churning strings with plaintive, heart-rending cries from the women (though some may find the arresting triple-k consonant of ‘Kkkonfutatis’ a touch excessive). ‘Lachrymosa’ has stylish ebb and flow, building powerfully to the bleak final ‘Amen’ (undoubtedly Süssmayr’s work), but ‘Domine Jesu’ is unsympathetically pedantic – although this does allow appreciation of some immaculate orchestral detail. ‘Sanctus’ blazes with light, but swiftly becomes bogged down by violins relentlessly slogging out their accompanying motif in unidiomatic manner.

The sound is a little on the murky side, and tends to favour the sopranos and basses; altos and tenors often become muddied. The well-behaved audience is barely noticeable. So, this is a good choice if you like Mozart’s “Requiem” big, measured and dramatic. But there is more to this extraordinary work than that. If ‘authentic’ performance does not appeal, an excellent compromise is Neville Marriner’s most recent account on Philips, which has both depth of sound and stylistic integrity, and a sincere sense of devotion.

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