SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MOZART: Requiem (Sussmayer); Realizations by Maunder, Levin, Beyer, Druce, Finnissy; Audio Documentary – Elin Manahan Thomas, sop./ Christine Rice, mezzo-soprano/ James Gilchrist, tenor/ Christopher Purves, bass-bar./ Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/ Academy of Ancient Music/ Stephen Cleobury – King’s College (SACD+CD)

A fine Requiem with some intriguing bonuses.

Published on April 19, 2013

MOZART: Requiem, K. 626 (Sussmayer); Realizations by Maunder, Levin, Beyer, Druce, Finnissy; An Audio Documentary – Elin Manahan Thomas, sop./ Christine Rice, mezzo-soprano/ James Gilchrist, tenor/ Christopher Purves, bass-bar./ Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/ Academy of Ancient Music/ Stephen Cleobury – King’s College stereo-only SACD KGS0002 (1 SACD + 1 bonus CD), 128:48 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

I have not heard the Academy of Ancient Music in this piece since the 1980s Hogwood recording with the Westminster Boys Choir. That recording, using the version by Maunder, eliminates everything not determined to be by Mozart, and makes corrections to some of the other movements. It is quite satisfactory as a performance though less so by the omissions, and Maunder’s corrections are quite probing. Now the orchestra takes it up again, this time with another boy’s and men’s choir, and it turns in a generally excellent performance of the traditional Sussmayer version of the work.

Since the release of the Hogwood Mozart scholarship has slowly been coming around to the notion that what Sussmayer was working with was far more significant and substantial than previously thought. Even though he claimed to have composed three of the movements himself from scratch, some of the thematic underpinning of his contributions nevertheless speak of a close and intimate relationship with the spirit of Mozart’s bona fide contributions. And we know from a first-hand account of a family member who was there at Mozart’s death that Sussmayer (yes, and not Salieri!) was taking instructions from Mozart nearly to the very end. Evidently Mozart himself was under the impression that whatever his illness was, he was getting better, and his turn for the worse came quite suddenly. The story goes that his last breath was dictating a certain bass part of the Requiem. There is little need to doubt the story as it is nearly an eye-witness account, and shows that Sussmayer probably was in possession of a lot more than we previously realized, and used Mozart’s instructions considerably. There is no reason to think that Sussmayer had any reason to keep those sketches either. He was, after all, the third person Constanze had contacted about finishing the piece.

But this has not kept criticism at bay over the years, the experts claiming, and with good reason, that Sussmayer violated lots of rules regarding counterpoint and voice leading, and was rather uninspired in his orchestration and general completion effort. So others have taken up the task of trying to better him, or at least clean him up and provide us with some alternatives. On this recording, after the performance of the Sussmayer, which is very good all around, especially the superb vocal quartet, five “realizations” are offered, each of which has been recorded in its entirety on other labels except the Finnissy, the only real composer of any account on the list. Strangely enough, his is the least satisfactory, attempting to give us a little too much about what he thinks Mozart would have done, and it doesn’t fit at all. Levin is probably the best, though his problem, like the others, is that Mozart was a real composer and he is not. Musicologists often miss this issue—if you can’t compose then you can’t complete very well either. And most amazing of all, is that Sussmayer, mistakes and all, is far more into the liturgical world of Mozart than any of these other fellows. He was there at his death bed, caught the spirit of the work from its very inception, lived in the same genre and world as Mozart, understood the liturgical atmosphere of the time, and gave us a completion that, while not Mozart himself, breathes of the same rarified air as the master.

There is a second disc also included that is well worth the purchase, taking us through three chapters about the piece, “Mozart in 1791 and the commissioning of the Requiem”, “The composition of the Requiem”, and “Reception”, with musical excerpts.  This excellent bonus audio documentary is illuminating and fascinating.

The sound on the main disc, while Super Audio, is a little restricted and also in stereo only for some reason. The clarity cannot be doubted but I had to turn it up a whole lot more than most discs in order to hear it properly. Overall a fine rendition, not as good from a sonic standpoint as Runnicles on Telarc in hi-res surround sound, but nicely rendered. And the extra material is quite useful as well.

—Steven Ritter




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