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Dip Your Ears, No. 139 (Mozart's Many Requiems)

available at Amazon
W.A.Mozart, Requiem
S.Cleopbury / The Choir of the King’s College
KGS 002

The Choir of the King’s College has been taken into the publishing-boat of the LSO Live recording specialists who are already producing the eponymous LSO Live label and that of the Mariinsky Orchestra. Their first shot was a double CD of “Nine Lessons & Carols” which featured several new commissions, a small Rautavaara world premiere, and a John Rutter piece to run away from. It is a statement to their tradition and of chiefly local and niche interest.

This, second release is a different matter. Not the recording of the Mozart Requiem in its Süssmayr edition itself. That’s been done before and—though this performance certainly can hold its own—in a variety of more exciting versions and with finer soloists. It’s the seeming bonus material that becomes the exciting main ingredient: a collection of various non-Süssmayr realizations appended,

If you just listen to the music in the background, you might miss the end of the Requiem proper and listen right on to the excerpts. Unperturbed by the Fugue on “Amen” that C.R.F. Maunder tacked on to the Lacrimosa in his version. Robert Levin’s Sanctus—with Franz Beyer’s Fugue, might also sail by without creating the necessary ripples of disparity because it confirms just close enough to our Süssmayr-shaped expectations. But Duncan Druce Benedictus should give the game away, with some wholesale re-composed parts that are not within the liberal margin of error our ears accept when they are on auto-pilot. Or finally in Michael Finnissy’s Lacrimosa, which sounds—if you are not expecting it—as though something has gone horribly wrong. (It also strikes me as the only incident on disc where the performance standards are not impeccable… something the chromatically more challenging elements, toying with ambiguity, expose at once.)

There are more completions to Mozart’s Requiem than this disc features with its five excerpts, and I would have been plenty intrigued if a disc had been dedicated just to comparing and contrasting different approaches to the same problems. The second disc of this release is instead dedicated to Cliff Eisen’s essay—and audio documentary—that goes through the Mozart Requiem like a puzzle-piece, identifying the music on which it was based, which inspired Mozart, or with which it has coincidental—but always striking—parallels… all of which are illustrated with musical examples. It turns out to be a fascinating journey of how Mozart put this puzzle together from seemingly all pre-existing pieces, and came up with something genial, completely original. A minor blip, easily overcome after a second listening, is the narration by Elin Manahan Thomas (also the soprano of the musical performance), who reads the essay chipper like a dim beagle (in Creature Comfort terms), happily mispronouncing her way through every German title she comes across.

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