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Sunday, November 02, 2003
Mozart's Requiem

Mozart's K626 Requiem is one of the finest pieces of music, if not the finest ever composed. It has particular resonance for me because I chose to awaken to it after my bypass operation in 1995. I wanted to wake to superb music after a stroll on the edge of death's precipice and I was able to do this. There were other reasons for choosing the piece: I was also saying 'Yah, sucks, boo' to superstition and affirming that we can't let God (Who s/he? - Ed.) have decent music all to him/herself.

I have two recordings of the work, one on vinyl (conducted by Barenboim in 1972) and the other on CD (Richard Hickox, 1991). Neither currently appears in the catalogues, let alone among the lists of recommended recordings. The Barenboim recording was, in its day, top of the list. It had the advantage of a knockout collection of soloists (Sheila Armstrong, Janet Baker, Nicolai Gedda and Dietrich Fischer-Diskau). Fischer-Diskau, a baritone, would never sing bass in public but he was prepared to do it on record. His Tuba mirum is assured and accurate, giving no hint that he was singing below his 'normal' range.

Fortuitously, BBC Radio Three has just revised its recommendations for the best recordings of Mozart's Requiem. The full review, by Ivan Hewett, can be listened to online. The website is here where, even if you can't listen to the programme, you can make sure that I've correctly reported Hewett's selections.
First Choice:
Margaret Price (soprano), Trudeliese Schmidt (mezzo-soprano), Francisco Araiza (tenor), Theo Adam (bass), Leipzig Radio Choir, Staatskapelle Dresden / Peter Schreier (conductor) (recorded 1982; coupled with Coronation Mass K.317; Ave Verum Corpus K.618
PHILIPS 4647202 (CD, Mid-price)

* Also available on Gramophone Award Winners PHILIPS 475 2052 (CD, Mid-price)

Period instrument Choice:
Barbara Bonney (soprano), Anne Sofie von Otter (contralto), Hans Peter Blochwitz (tenor)
Willard White (bass), Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor) (recorded1986; coupled with Kyrie (K.341)
PHILIPS 420 197-2 (CD)

Historic Choice (Mono):
Lisa della Casa (soprano), Ira Malaniuk (contralto), Anton Dermota (tenor), Cesare Siepi (bass), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Vienna Philharmonic, Bruno Walter (conductor) (recorded 1956; coupled with Symphony in G minor (K.183)
ORFEO C 430 961 B (CD, mid-price)
Here are a few of Ivan Hewett's comments from my notes: Bernstein has the best Dies irae but the Lachrimosa is 'mawkish'. Philippe Herreweghe is 'vivid' but let down by lacklustre soloists while Abbado and Solti are plagued with venue acoustic problems. If you don't mind reverberation, Abbado might then be a reasonable choice. Listening to various extracts, I was struck by how well choral diction has improved. I noted it particularly with the period instrument recordings, Roger Norrington's choir (Schutz Choir of London) being the first one I remarked on but this doesn't mean to say its the best. (Hewett gives him poor marks for using Duncan Druce's rewriting of Sussmayr's completion, by the way.) This reminds me of some live recordings I did many years ago.

Around Christmas, I think, there were two versions of the Requiem broadcast on TV: one from Barcelona under Norrington - superb performance and soloists. The other was conducted by Solti from London - inappropriate soloists and performance from him. 'I don't like my Mozart to sound like Wagner,' I remarked at the time. Perhaps it was the acoustics... However, I suspect that Solti's attempts to get a London orchestra (LSO?) to sound like the Berlin Philharmonic may not have had universal appeal. Alas, the video tape recording of Norrington and Solti made years ago was borrowed by an ex-friend and I do not expect it ever to reappear.

So, good luck with making the most of Hewett's useful and comprehensive review and, if you can't get hold of any of the mentioned recordings in your locality, you could always move!

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