Ave verum corpus, K618
Requiem, K626 [edition used published by Bärenreiter, supervised by H. C. Robbins Landon, to which John Lubbock incorporates the publication by Breitkopf & Härtel]
Hannah Davey (soprano), Sarah-Jane Lewis (contralto), Christopher Turner (tenor) & Frazer B. Scott (bass)
Orchestra of St John’s
Recorded 30 May 2013 at St John’s, Smith Square, London
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: March 2015
CD No: OSJ ALIVE OSJCD02
Duration: 62 minutes
Mozart’s Requiem has been a cause of discussion ever since the composer’s death. H. C. Robbins Landon cleared up a lot of the confusion when he said in his book, 1791 Mozart’s Last Year: “We may overlook the thousands of pages published between 1792 and 1963 on the subject of the Requiem.” Landon then prints information from the manuscript discovered in 1964 by Otto Eric Deutsch in which Count Franz von Walsegg, who commissioned the work, clarifies (nearly all of) the truth.
The work is known widely in the version completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr. He was present during Mozart’s final illness and discussed the composition with him in detail. Joseph von Eybler was originally commissioned by Mozart’s widow to complete the work and commenced but after a while gave up and Süssmayr took over. To some extent certain incomplete sections were a matter of re-fashioning Eybler’s reconstructions, the remainder were the work of Süssmayr. There is no doubt that Mozart described verbally his plans for the ‘Sanctus’ and its subdivisions and Süssmayr completed the final movements commencing with ‘Lux aeterna’ by re-using Mozart’s music from earlier in the work.
Süssmayr achieved this difficult task with reasonable success, but it is interesting that John Lubbock has chosen the Bärenreiter publication overseen by Robbins Landon which retains the Eybler reconstructions of the earlier parts while also including Süssmayr’s later contributions. Lubbock also incorporates some elements of the old Breitkopf & Härtel edition.
Despite these complications the overall pattern of the music retains the sequence familiar to most listeners and Lubbock expounds it with great clarity. The not over-resonant acoustic of St John’s Smith Square suits the music-making very well. I selected one of the outstanding ‘period’-instrument recordings for comparison and it was revealing that Ton Koopman’s Erato version has a string strength that parallels that of OSJ. Of course the contrast in pitch is noticeable (Koopman is roughly half a tone down) and his Utrecht venue is more reverberating, but both readings feature directness and forward thrust.
A good example of the style adopted is shown in the ‘Tuba mirum’ – Frazer B. Scott is firm and commanding rather than declamatory and here the blending of the vocal quartet is admirable. It is possible to overlook the singers employing a certain amount of vibrato; I often have reservations about the use of this technique in older music but here it can be accepted in the context of a ‘modern’ performance. Only briefly when Hannah Davey uses it rather liberally at the start of the ‘Lux aeterna’ does this vocal effect seem overdone.
In general, Lubbock is at his best in the more vivid sequences which are underpinned by strong timpani and challenging brass. The members of OSJ Voices are arrestingly powerful at times and also very expressive, as at the fugal conclusion of the ‘Benedictus’ where there is a subtle increase in force to dramatic effect. There is no doubt that this is a rendition of strength although the ‘Dies irae’ does not overwhelm despite the appropriate fast tempo. It is certainly robust and exciting, but Koopman’s even faster interpretation is terrifying. I listened to this merely for reference but was so overwhelmed that I had to pause awhile before returning to the OSJ version.
Together with the lovely Ave verum corpus, sung most sensitively by OSJ Voices, this interesting edition of the Requiem would seem very recommendable, but for the strange presentation. These are concert performances; there are coughs and shuffles between movements which could easily have been eliminated, but they can be lived with. However, these are liturgical works and it is a matter for discussion whether this music should be applauded at all. There is certainly no need for clapping being retained on a recording, yet Ave verum corpus gets 45 seconds of applause and the Requiem is disfigured by a seemingly interminable three-and-a-half minutes of it at the close. In fact the total amount of clapping is the same as the entire length of Ave verum corpus.
However, to end on a positive note, Tony Faulkner’s excellent sound-quality allows everything to be heard in impressive detail. It may seem old-fashioned to praise the wide stereo spread (a phrase used often by reviewers in the late-1960s) but this aspect certainly enhances the innate feel of this very well balanced example of engineering.