Mozart & Süssmayr Requiems

0 of 5 stars

Requiem in D minor, K626 [edited Süssmayr]

Maria Jette (soprano)
Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano)
James Taylor (tenor)
Eric Owens (bass)

St Olaf Choir

St Paul Chamber Orchestra
Andreas Delfs [Mozart]

St Olaf Choir & Orchestra
Anton Armstrong [Süssmayr]

Mozart recorded live on 7 & 8 November 2003 in Ordway Hall, St Paul, Minnesota; Süssmayr recorded on 26 & 27 May 2004 in St Andrew’s Church, Mahtomedi, Minnesota

Reviewed by: Timothy Ball

Reviewed: September 2005
Duration: 68 minutes

Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803) is known primarily for his completion of Mozart’s Requiem. His work on this has come under scrutiny in recent years by scholars who have pointed out certain perceived deficiencies and attempted their own solutions. Prior to these revisionists, Süssmayr’s edition – undertaken at the request of Mozart’s widow – was the standard performing version.

This release affords an opportunity of hearing some of Süssmayr’s own music. This setting of the Requiem – composed around the time of his work on Mozart’s – has apparently remained unperformed since the composer’s lifetime, and the circumstances surrounding its composition and performance then remain unknown.

Malcolm Bruno, the producer of this recording, has prepared a version which omits repeats and makes other amendments to the score, such as the replacement of the natural horns specified by Süssmayr for basset horns. Whilst this places the music’s overall sonority closer to that of Mozart, one might argue that this changes the timbre of Süssmayr’s original conception quite significantly – but with an essentially strophic structure, there is much repetition and so the omission of some stanzas may not be a cause for too much regret.

The music is perfectly agreeable, genial in character and evidently grateful to sing. But amiability and geniality are surely not ideal musical characteristics for a Requiem setting and it is odd to find such charming music when dealing with matters associated with Judgement Day. Text and music seem curiously mismatched at times, and there is no sense of a profound response to the import of the words.

At around 18 minutes, this version of Süssmayr’s Requiem does not outstay its welcome, and it is well sung and played by the St Olaf Choir and Orchestra who are affectionately and efficiently led by Anton Armstrong.

Preceding it on the disc is a fine performance of Süssmayr’s edition of Mozart’s Requiem, and those passages which are undeniably the work of the latter throw into relief the comparative modest nature of the former’s composing talent as revealed in his Requiem recorded here.

This is a ‘live’ recording – drawn from two performances – and there is an undeniable frisson which attends such occasions. The ‘Dies Irae’ and other turbulent passages find a ready response from the St Olaf Choir and the St Paul Chamber Orchestra. The latter’s playing – on ‘modern’ instruments – is rewarding to hear, and there is an ideal balance between instruments and voices. The choral singing is splendid, with an acuity of response in quieter passages as well as in the bigger moments.

The soloists are good – working well as a team – though in one or two of her exposed entries, Maria Jette has a tendency towards a degree of flatness.

Andreas Delfs chooses judicious tempos and there is a tangible feeling of a well-considered reading aptly realised by the performers.

Süssmayr’s realisation is taken at face value – there is no apparent tinkering of any kind – and, in a performance of integrity such as this, any shortcomings, such as they may be, fall into insignificance.

And, in any case, it is worth bearing in mind that without Süssmayr we would probably not know of the magnificent torso that Mozart left in his Requiem.

It might be that the Süssmayr Requiem is the ‘selling point’ of thisrelease, but it is for the performance of the Mozart that I warmlycommend this disc.

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