FUX; KERLL Requiems
Kerll’s Missa pro defunctis (published 1689) was dedicated to Emperor Leopold I, and its preface reveals that the composer wanted it performed at his own funeral. Vox Luminis’s consummate mastery of polyphonic textures, plangent sonorities and contoured phrasing is profoundly beautiful; the five soloists and five additional ‘ripieno’ singers declaim text with clarity and decorum. An organist and the four-part viol consort L’Achéron often double the voices but sometimes play independent concertante parts, such as the quivering accompaniment to ‘Quantus tremor’ (a tremulous bass solo), a fanfare-like attack to dotted rhythms during ‘Tuba mirum’ (a tenor solo), and mellifluous sustained lines and discreetly shaped suspensions in support of ‘Mors stupebit’ (an alto solo) and ‘Lacrimosa’ (a brief soprano solo). In contrapuntal choruses – whether the quick-moving detail of ‘Quam olim Abrahae’ or the unfurling serenity of ‘Lux aeterna’ – the combination of all 15 musicians is solemnly compassionate.
Fux’s Requiem was performed at the funeral of the Dowager Empress Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg (widow of Leopold I) in 1720, and thereafter acquired the nickname Kaiserrequiem because it was revived for the obsequies of Charles VI in 1740. Fux’s famed skill at counterpoint is also explicit in ritornellos that occur occasionally – usually for two violins, viola and basso continuo, but Mozartians will notice the use of solo trombone in ‘Tuba mirum’ (an alto solo); in larger-scale passages the instrumentalists of Scorpio Collectief double the choir with two muted cornets, two trombones and bassoon. The connected short movements in the Sequence present a lovely fluidity between the ‘Recordare’ (a solo quartet) and the ensuing ‘Quaerens me’ (full ensemble weaving gently); an elegant little trio for two sopranos and alto (‘Inter oves’) proceeds into a darker-hued choral ‘Confutatis’. Polyphonic strands rise in arching phrases in the nuanced ‘Sanctus’, and a seamless progression of suspensions and resolutions from top to bottom of the musical texture caps off a consoling ‘Communio’. An alternative recording of the Kaiserrequiem by Roland Wilson’s Musica Fiata and La Capella Ducale has more pronounced rhythmical chiaroscuro but is vocally uneven, whereas the refinement of Vox Luminis is never anything less than sublime.