ALBUM TITLE: Two Requiems
WORKS: Requiem; Requiem
PERFORMER: Maria Jette (soprano), Jennifer Larmore (mezzo-soprano), James Taylor (tenor), Eric Owens (bass); Saint Paul CO/Anton Armstrong, Andreas Delfs
CATALOGUE NO: 47
Any new version of the Mozart Requiem has to have something pretty distinctive to justify its existence. Here the sales peg is the inclusion of a hitherto unknown Requiem by Mozart’s pupil Franz Süssmayr. The problem is that, whatever his teacher’s credentials, Süssmayr wasn’t a very good composer. This German-language setting of the Requiem represents late-18th-century Austrian church music at its blandest and most instantly forgettable. Amid the sequence of simple, hymn-like movements, the Dies irae – music that could have strayed out of a glee club – must be the most cheerfully unconcerned setting of all time. Comments on the performance are almost irrelevant, though understandably neither chorus nor orchestra is inspired beyond a routine competence.
This would hardly matter if the Mozart Requiem, recorded at performances in Minnesota, held its own with the finest. There are good things here, including a powerful Dies irae and a nobly sonorous bass soloist; and the commitment of the St Olaf Choir and the St Paul’s Orchestra is never in doubt. But conductor Andreas Delfs too often fails to maintain rhythmic tension in slower numbers – say, in the Tuba mirum (where neither the tenor soloist nor the strings generate any frisson at ‘Mors stupebit’), and the Benedictus, which is inclined to plod from bar to bar. The recorded sound, while acceptable, tends to blur choral detail and mutes impact of trumpets and timpani. Prime recommendations remain Marriner and Schreier (both Philips) and, my own favourite, the recent Harnoncourt version, a performance of thrilling, unsettling dramatic extremes. Richard Wigmore