Mozart Sacred Works

Author: 
Stanley Sadie

Mozart Sacred Works

  • Requiem
  • Ave verum corpus
  • Maurerische Trauermusik, "Masonic Funeral Music"

This is not another recording of Mozart's Requiem. The version here takes the rejection of Mozart's pupil Sussmayr two steps further, beyond Maunder, let alone Levin or Landon or Beyer, to name the others whose versions of the work have been recorded recently. This time the editor—and that isn't really the right word—is Duncan Druce, himself a composer and a violinist in the orchestra here. He has taken careful account of what Mozart himself actually composed, and the early movements, which Mozart more or less completed, are done with little modification compared with what we usually hear. The listener will notice some sharp dotted rhythms from the trumpets and drums in the Dies irae, and extra detail in the accompaniments to the ''Tuba mirum''. There are other minor differences too, for instance in the ''Recordare''. But it is with the ''Lacrimosa'' that Druce actually starts serious composing: and very effective, very tastefully done, much of it is. It doesn't all sound like authentic Mozart, especially the rather full woodwind writing, something that Mozart seems to have avoided in the sections he completed. The ''Lacrimosa'' is interrupted, as Mozart may have intended, by a fugal ''Amen'' setting, which Druce (like Maunder before him, rather differently) has developed from the surviving sketch.
Druce's working is substantial and pretty convincing, following many of the procedures Mozart used in his choral fugues, without going outside his normal language; and the shaping of the movements is impressive—Druce understands, as most pasticheurs do not, how Mozart handled his coda sections in terms of harmony and harmonic tempo. In the ''Domine Jesu'' much of the string writing is changed (in fact simplified: Druce's version more readily admits Norrington's quickish tempo than the Sussmayr would have done). The handling of the Sanctus, where Sussmayr is horribly ungrammatic, is very convincing, at least for the first few bars; and the ''Osanna'' is an effective reworking, much extended, of Mozart's fugue (rightly kept in the same key when it returns). As to the Benedictus, this is a new and wholly free working of the opening theme from the familiar version, making generous, perhaps over-generous, use of the woodwind. In the Agnus Dei, Druce follows the usual text more closely, but with a lot of detail reworked and a new, expanded ending; there is much that is new, too, in the ''Lux aeterna''.
This is a very fascinating version, done by someone who clearly is a composer himself and at the same time very sensitive to Mozart. As I have indicated, it does not always truly sound like Mozart; often one feels there is a false step, but that is, I think, inevitable, for Mozart's genius is ultimately inimitable. My own feeling about this work is that the best answer is really modified Sussmayr, or even pure Sussmayr: it may not be authentic, but it's certainly the nearest to authentic you can get. Yet this version is very musical and has to be taken seriously. Roger Norrington conducts a lively performance. A lively Requiem, you may ask? Well, that is certainly how it is initially: quick tempos, some of them extremely quick, for the most part, and not much sense of the presence of death (which is what the Requiem is, I think, meant to be about), or at least not much sense of gravity. It does, however, become steadily weightier as it proceeds. The choral singing is excellent, the orchestral playing light and clear-textured. The solo team is an impressive one, with the gentle Nancy Argenta on top, Catherine Robbin in pleasantly firm and clear voice, John Mark Ainsley as elegant as always, and Alastair Miles providing an incisive, rather tight bass. No point in my offering comparisons; this is a different piece of music, unlike any other of the Requiems you can buy. The inquisitive Mozartian will certainly want to try it.
The Ave verum corpus receives a quietly eloquent, very touching performance. The Masonic Funeral Music is taken a good deal quicker than usual, and the result is that the work sounds less like a resigned acceptance of death than an angry protest: I'm not sure how that concords with contemporary masonic attitudes, but it certainly exposes another side of the work and is thought-provoking, in true Norrington fashion, in a number of ways.'

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