MOZART Requiem (René Jacobs)
>‘Mozart’s Requiem will never be finished’, says French composer Pierre-Henri Dutron in the booklet to his completion of this great and frustrating masterpiece. And, wisely, he makes no definitive claims for his work, which runs to two versions: ‘Süssmayr Remade’, which we get in this recording and in which Süssmayr’s contributions are used as a basis for the reworking; and ‘Mozart Extended’ (so far unrecorded), in which he strips out anything of Süssmayr’s and composes new music of his own, so far as he can make it in Mozart’s style.
David Threasher’s article on page 14 provides an excellent assessment of the Requiem’s long history of completions and reworkings, which leaves more room here to describe how the results of Dutron’s close encounter with the work sound. In fact there are no massive surprises, and much of it sounds pretty much as we know it. Like many of his predecessors, Dutron tidies things up here and there, enriches the duller orchestral moments with Mozartian countermelodies and excites some of the rhythmic ‘dead spots’ a little. The wind- and brass-writing is made more telling in places, there are some subtle and interesting harmonic changes, the second half of the ‘Lacrimosa’ is reshaped somewhat (though Dutron does not use the rediscovered ‘Amen’ fugue here), and there is more work for the solo quartet, which even takes over the ‘Hostias’ entirely. More radical is the reworking of Süssmayr’s movements: the ghastly repeated string chords of the Sanctus are replaced with simple but shapely violin figures; the stunted ‘Osanna’ is extended (as other completers have done); and the Benedictus is elegantly and convincingly recomposed using melodic motifs from Süssmayr’s original.
And what, then, is the effect of all this on the piece? Well, I would say that the Requiem that emerges is one that stealthily sustains the vulnerability, the sense of a fear of the grave even, that Mozart’s music establishes at the outset. Interjections by the solo quartet such as the frail ‘Quantus tremor est futurus’ in the ‘Dies irae’ are like cracks in the emotional armour, preventing the music from becoming too granitic, nowhere more so than in their plaintive surprise appearance just before the work’s last cadence, which in itself collapses on to a bleak and weary final chord that fades almost into oblivion. Jacobs’s conducting, too, uses textural variation, urgent but flexibly shaped phrasing and the odd trick of rhetorical timing to keep the work light, briskly flowing and human in scale. As ever he has plenty of ideas, and the lithe and alert playing of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and the firm singing of the RIAS Chamber Choir (even if not always quite as on-the-ball as the orchestra) ensure that he is able to realise them with clarity and effective control of detail. He is thus a sympathetic interpreter of this probing but respectful version of the Requiem, one that sheds interesting emotional light on a piece that will never cease to fascinate.