Mozart: Requiem

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Dorian
WORKS: Requiem
PERFORMER: Karina Gauvin (soprano), Marie-Nicole Lemieux (mezzo-soprano), John Tessier (tenor), Nathan Berg (bass-baritone); La Chapelle de Québec, Les Violons du Roy/Bernard Labadie
CATALOGUE NO: DOR-90310
Of the various takes on Süssmayr’s completion of Mozart’s torso, Robert Levin’s is arguably the most successful. He departs most radically from the traditional text in the newly composed fugues for the end of the Sequence (a severe, strikingly dissonant piece based on Mozart’s own sketch) and the Sanctus (a convincing expansion of Süssmayr’s perfunctory original). Elsewhere Levin retains the essence of the Benedictus and Agnus Dei, but improves them in countless details: the reworked end of the Agnus Dei, in particular, makes you realise how awkwardly written the original is. And throughout the work Levin effectively cleanses and lightens Süssmayr’s uniform grey, stodgy textures.

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The first recording of the Levin edition, directed by Martin Pearlman (Telarc), was a modestly scaled reading that stressed the Requiem’s Baroque heritage. This new version, made at a concert in New York, is altogether grander and more dramatic, with broader tempi, steeper dynamic contrasts and far more detailed shaping of the choral and orchestral lines. Bernard Labadie draws colourful and committed singing from his professional choir, whether in the sombre threnody of the opening or the taut, powerfully directed fugues. The soloists, led by the graceful soprano of Karina Gauvin, bring a chamber-musical ease of interplay to the Recordare and Benedictus. Minor caveats include a slightly ponderous Hostias and a recorded balance which favours the expert period orchestra over the chorus. But unless you regard the Süssmayr text as sacrosanct, this is definitely a Requiem to consider, both for the conviction of the performance and for Levin’s stylistically idiomatic overhaul. Richard Wigmore