Mozart: Requiem; Betracht dies Herz (from Grabmusik, K42); Laudate dominum (from Veperae solennes de confessore, K339)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Requiem; Betracht dies Herz (from Grabmusik, K42); Laudate dominum (from Veperae solennes de confessore, K339)
PERFORMER: Karita Mattila, Rachel Harnisch (soprano), Sara Mingardo (mezzo-soprano), Michael Schade (tenor), Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Swedish Radio Choir, Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 463 181-2
Claudio Abbado, who in two years’ time surrenders the Berlin Philharmonic podium to Simon Rattle, recorded this Mozart Requiem to mark ten years since the death of another of the orchestra’s illustrious former directors, Herbert von Karajan. The tribute was recorded last July in the cathedral at Salzburg, a town where Karajan presided for many years as artistic director of the Salzburg Festival.

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The venue is a key part of the recording; in fact it exerts as great an influence on the finished product as any of the personnel involved. While Salzburg Cathedral may lend an ecclesiastical atmosphere appropriate to the performance of a requiem and the commemoration of the deceased Karajan, it is not achieved without sacrifice of sound clarity. Despite the best efforts of an impeccably disciplined orchestra and a chorus that clearly prizes attention to detail, the building’s formidable echo cloaks proceedings in a fog of imprecision. This is particularly noticeable in thinly scored passages including solo singing, such as the ‘Tuba mirum’. Some sections benefit from the muffling, such as a strikingly beautiful ‘Lacrimosa’, but elsewhere, as in the ‘Confutatis’, the venue seems to conspire against any attempts at ferocity and passion. Overall, a good performance is not heard to best effect. The fillers are a disappointment too; Mozartian lollipops that sit uneasily with the Requiem.

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There is more punch in the performance by the English Baroque Soloists under John Eliot Gardiner, aided by a fine quartet of soloists and his never-failing sense of polish.