DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

MOZART: Requiem Mass in D Minor; Mass in C Minor

John Eliot Gardiner conducts both works in Barcelona in 1991 for European TV

Published on February 13, 2006

MOZART: Requiem Mass in D Minor; Mass in C Minor
MOZART: Requiem Mass in D Minor, K. 626; Mass in C Minor, K. 427
 
John Eliot Gardiner, conducting

Barbara Bonney, soprano/ Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano/ Anthony Rolfe Johnson, tenor/ Alastair Miles, bass/ Monteverdi Choir/ English Baroque Soloists
Studio: Philips DVD B0005819-09 (Distrib. Universal)
Video: 4:3 Color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 101 minutes
Rating: ****

Filmed for TV broadcast by Jonathan Fulford, this concert features two incomplete vocal masterpieces given in December 1991 at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona, and reissued especially for the Mozart anniversary celebrations.  Both the Requiem and the Mass, edited and filled out by contemporaries of Mozart, here have the emendations by conductor John Eliot Gardiner, who has cancelled out the harmonic and syntactical solecisms by Alois Schmitt in the Mass and Franz Xavier Suessmayr in the Requiem. Gardiner takes the authentic-style approach, quite fast and thin in texture, to accomplish for Mozart what Helmut Rilling had done for Bach performance in the 1980s and 1990s. The thin-lipped style allows Mozart a penetrating clarity and clarity of vertical detail, although some will find the traditionally luscious parts, as in the opening of the Lacrimosa, too dry.  I found the Dies Irae had passed me by, as if the Last Judgment had trumped without me.

On the other hand, the Domine, Jesu Christe chugs at a brilliant speed and becomes a piece of liturgical bravura writing. The Hostias benefits from this perspective of intense restraint, demure passion. The Sanctus manages to explode despite stylistic limits; the ensuing fugue hustles and bites in quicksilver color. The Benedictus, like the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, is by Suessmayr, yet it sounds a perfect extension of Mozart’s means. Nice camera work on the tympani and low winds for the opening of the Agnus Dei. The vocal quartet is in splendid form, with Bonney’s rendering affecting coloratura melismas of striking beauty. The cinematic virtues of the telecast include the wonderful illustrations on the church windows, panels, and ceiling. The cameras can be quite virtuosi in their own right, stepping right into the orchestral players‚ spaces, and then pulling back for the large gestures in the music so we can see Gardiner at the helm of his synchronized forces.

The Mass in C Minor (1783) is a rather eclectic work, rife with Italian coloratura influences and Mozart’s own fascination with the compositional styles of Bach and Handel. Barbara Bonney shines in the opening Christe eleison; and Sofie von Otter has her own miasmatic triumph in the sometimes stratospheric Laudamus te, not far from the Queen of the Night. The mezzo-soprano again joins Bonney for the Domine Deus, whose ornate style recalls the music of Alessandro Scarlatti. Another Neapolitan moment appears at the expansive Et incarnates est – itself a flutey, bucolic siciliana which moves to an instrumental, woodwind cadenza with soprano. Much of the writing echoes the slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 17. The seriousness of the opening sequences is dispelled by the rousing Gloria, with its trumpet voluntaries straight out of Handel’s Messiah. The eerie Et in terra pax utilizes woodwinds in uneasy colors. 

Great harmonic color as well as close camera work on the chorus for the Gratias, which explodes and dies away all too briefly. Mozart’s Qui tollis reveals his most passionate religious fervor: set in G Minor, the piece features a double chorus with dotted figures and ground bass, a sort of buzzing, Francophile chaconne with hints from Handel. Nice diminuendi from Gardiner, his left hand suave and claw-like at once. Tenor Johnson joins the two sopranos for the palpitating Quoniam, whose wind and string syncopations keep everybody busy. The transparency of texture shifts to a magisterial thickness–shot from a camera far back and then zooming forward– in the Cum Sancto Spiritu, a strict fugue with Bach-like dancing and hymnal figures. Gardiner moves the Credo at a gallop, so even the five-part choral writing appears a breezy declaration of faith.

The epic Sanctus pushes the sonic envelope, here in eight-part grandeur, with all kinds of busy, canonic imitation in the strings, wind, and horn sections of the Osanna fugue, the rhythm chugging martial triplets and Handelian fervor.  A quick move to the Handelian Benedictus, in which Mr. Miles’s thick bass voice becomes a salient feature among the contrapuntal vocalizations. When the magnificent vocal quartet, chorus, and orchestra wend their way back to the Osanna, we have ended Gardiner’s traversal of one of the great, unfinished musical torsos in the Mozart catalogue.

The DVD features what has become the standard fare, A Mozart Picture Gallery and a Mozart Chronology. The liner notes are by Erik Smith (1931-2004), son of conductor Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt.

–Gary Lemco




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