Mozart: Requiem

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Requiem
PERFORMER: Helen Donath (soprano), Yvonne Minton (contralto), Ryland Davies (tenor), Gerd Nienstedt (bass) John Alldis Choir, BBC SO/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 420 353-2 ADD Reissue (1967)
Davis’s 1967 account of the Requiem is characteristically admirable, if now very slightly dated, musicologically speaking. But musicology is not the same thing as musicality, and musical truth, happily, is a stranger to fashion. Heard in the context of the lighter textures and more sharply etched articulations of the past couple of decades, this performance may strike some listeners as excessively massive, but in its overall structuring and dramatic pacing it remains impressive for its artistic integrity and technical polish alike. That said, it does have certain drawbacks from my own point of view, which have nothing to do with history, scholarship or fashion. First among these is what seems to me an insufficiency of rhythmic variety, an excessively symmetrical approach to small-scale phrasing (the broader arcs are admirably conveyed) which sometimes impedes the sense of forward movement. Allied to this is what I can only describe as a certain heaviness of attack now and again, and an occasionally too-limited dynamic range. Just how big a difference the tiniest metrical-rhythmic adjustments can make is tellingly demonstrated in Daniel Barenboim’s equally untrendy but highly compelling account on EMI (another reissue, but full price), which also boasts a more consistently satisfying quartet of soloists. In almost every section, his tempi are strikingly similar to Davis’s, but the increased sharpness of attack, the greater rhythmic variegation and the loving attention to harmonic detail produce an excitement and pathos which are far closer to my own ideal. But these things are very personal, and like all musical experience, only partly rational. Jeremy Siepmann