Requiem (ed Beyer)
Christine Schäfer, Bernarda Fink (sops) Kurt Streit (ten) Gerald Finley (bar) Arnold Schoenberg Choir; Concentus Musicus Wien / Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 82876 58705-2 (50' · DDD/DSD · Recorded live 2003) Buy from Amazon
Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s recent choral projects seem consciously to be reconciling some of the treasured values of his upbringing, alongside deeply held beliefs as to how a famous score can be illuminated through a ‘period’ lens. This recording integrates past and present in a way his previous reading from over 20 years earlier simply couldn’t. The main difference between the two is the interpretative assurance of his latest version; it’s far clearer in its message, and articulated with greater rhetorical awareness.
While the ‘Dies irae’ is a set-piece of graphic, biting and eerie terror, the previous Kyrie is treated as a quasi-liturgical introit, unfolding gradually with an understated elegance. The ‘Tuba mirum’ is also unusual, less statuesque than normal, with a highly charged trombone solo both triumphant and imploring. The solo singers, individually and collectively, are tinged with a glow of deep regret; they sing with a palpable sense of interdependent ensemble and sustained poignancy.
As you’d expect from Harnoncourt, there’s a studied punchiness, and the ‘Confutatis’ leaves us with a series of striking contrasts, with ‘salva me’ as a gesture of impending loneliness for the ‘Recordare’: the strings shadow the soloists with questing and characterful figures, belying the restless and unsentimental approach to the ‘Lacrimosa’. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir is highly responsive in the modern way, yet unmodish in their soft-edged attack and heterogeneous timbre. Harnoncourt conceives of an almost jocular majesty in the ‘Domine Jesu’ and Benedictus. Of course, there has to be a moment for the iconoclast in him: here it’s the ‘Hostias’, taken at almost twice the usual speed.
This isn’t a Requiem that comforts and stirs in the expected ways. Instead, a curious and enigmatic undertow of human vulnerability emerges, presenting Mozart’s valedictory essay in a striking new light.
Requiem (ed Süssmayer). Ave verum corpus, K618
Anna Maria Panzarella (sop) Nathalie Stutzmann (contr) Christoph Prégardien (ten) Nathan Berg (bass) Les Arts Florissants / William Christie
Erato 0630 10697-2 (54' · DDD · T/t) Buy from Amazon
Les Arts Florissants provide a substantial, dramatic reading: the tempo for the ‘Requiem aeternam’ is slow but malleable, and Christie is ready to make the most of the changes in orchestral colour or choral texture and, indeed, to dramatise the music to the utmost. He has little truck with any notion that this is an austere piece: he sees it as operatic, almost Romantic – and the result is very compelling. There are surprising things: ‘Quantus tremor’, in a very weighty account of the ‘Dies irae’, for example, is hushed rather than terrifying; the ‘Recordare’ is slow to the point of stickiness; there are rather mannered crescendos in the Sanctus; and often cadences are drawn out. The powerful choruses of the Sequence are imposingly done, and the grave ‘Lacrimosa’ wonderfully catches the special significance not only of the music itself but also of the fact that this is the moment where Mozart’s last autograph trails off. The choral singing is sharply etched and generally distinguished. Although the solo singing isn’t uniformly outstanding the soprano’s melting tone can be very appealing, and Prégardien is an excellent stylist; the Benedictus is particularly impressive: shapely and refined. This is a reading full of character and imaginative ideas, very much a conscious modern interpretation of the work and very finely executed. The disc is completed by perhaps the only piece which can reasonably follow the Requiem, the Ave verum corpus, in a slow, hushed, rather romantic reading that’s undeniably moving.
M Price, Schmidt, Schreier, Adam; Leipzig Radio Choir; Staatskapelle Dresden / Peter Schreier
Philips 464 720-2PM (53' · DDD) Buy from Amazon
Peter Schreier won the Gramophone Choral Award in 1984 with this dedicated reading, a little heavy by contemporary standards, yet still compelling thanks to Margaret Price’s ravishing singing and the magnificence of the Leipzig Radio Choir.
McNair, Watkinson, Araiza, Lloyd; ASMF & Chorus / Sir Neville Marriner
Philips download 432 087-2PH (50' · DDD) Buy from Amazon
Consistent and considered, Marriner offers the conventional text with both dignity and polish. Exceptionally fine choral singing.
Gritton, Wyn-Rogers, Robinson, Rose; SCO & Chorus / Sir Charles Mackerras
Linn CKD211 (55' · DDD/DSD) Buy from Amazon
Susan Gritton leads the soloists in Sir Charles Mackerras’s 2002 rethink. He uses the Robert Levin edition in which the traditional text is retained only in so far as it agrees with ‘idiomatic Mozartian practice’.
Della Casa, Malaniuk, Dermota, Siepi; Vienna State Opera Chorus; Philh Orch / Bruno Walter
Orfeo C430 961B (76' · ADD) Buy from Amazon
A taut and powerful account from Walter’s final Salzburg Festival concert (1956) with soprano Lisa della Casa in glorious voice and the VPO playing with fierce commitment.