WORKS: Requiem in D minor, K626 (ed. Levin); Adagio & Fugue, K546
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (contralto), Timothy Robinson (tenor), Peter Rose (bass); Scottish CO & Chorus/Charles Mackerras
CATALOGUE NO: CKD 211
Robert Levin’s revision of the familiar Süssmayr completion of Mozart’s Requiem is less radical than Richard Maunder’s, but will still surprise the unwary. His most drastic deviations from the traditional text are the new fugues at the end of the Sequence (based on an authentic sketch) and the Sanctus, where he vastly expands Süssmayr’s brief fugato. While Levin’s intervention elsewhere is often confined to lightening Süssmayr’s textures (bassoons and basset horns are used much more sparingly), there are more far-reaching changes in the Benedictus and, especially, the Agnus Dei. Most of Levin’s rethinking is plausibly Mozartian, though not always an unarguable improvement on Süssmayr, who for all his deficiencies did have the unbeatable advantage of being close to Mozart in the last months of his life.
Among a handful of recordings of the Levin edition, the best up to now has been the recent version from Bernard Labadie on Dorian (reviewed in March). This new one, though, is even better. Its overriding strength is the powerful, searching and utterly unaffected direction of Charles Mackerras, who chooses his tempi unerringly (Labadie is occasionally over-reverential) and combines a sharp feeling for colour and dramatic detail (I’ve never heard such violently rasping strings in the ‘Confutatis’) with a commanding sense of structure. The big fugues, for instance, unfold thrillingly and inexorably, with none of the fussy dynamic shadings favoured by some conductors. The chorus, if less firm in piano than Labadie’s professional choir and slightly recessed in the ample acoustic, responds eagerly to Mackerras’s inspiriting baton; and the soloists, led by the radiant and intense tones of Susan Gritton, are excellent individually, and blend sensitively in the Recordare and Benedictus. Richard Wigmore