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Briefly Noted: Suzuki's Requiem

available at Amazon
Mozart, Requiem / Vesperae solennes de confessore, C. Sampson, M.B. Kielland, M. Sakurada, C. Immler, Bach Collegium Japan, M. Suzuki

(released on January 13, 2015)
BIS-2091 | 74'34"
We are admirers of the work of Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan here at Ionarts. With the group's fine traversal of Bach's cantatas now complete, Suzuki has turned his attention to Mozart's setting of the Latin Requiem Mass. Not surprisingly, he has made a recording that is beautiful to listen to and forces the listener to confront the scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood work. Because the composer's death prevented him from completing it, Romantic imaginations have often run wild concerning the genesis and meaning of this Requiem. This recording's supremely informed program essay, by scholar Christoph Wolff, ends on the description of the composer's sister-in-law Sophie's memory of Mozart's final moments on earth: "The last thing he did was to try to mouth the sound of the timpani in his Requiem -- this I remember even now." Wolff also observes that in 1791, the year he died, Mozart was expecting to be appointed Domkapellmeister at St. Stephen's Cathedral, and that he sought to make his Requiem a piece that could be used in an actual liturgy.

Suzuki performs every note Mozart actually wrote down just as he wrote it, and he also tries to honor the intentions of both of the early completions of the work, by Franz Xaver Süßmayr and Joseph Eybler. The edition he uses, by Masato Suzuki (the conductor's son and the organist of the ensemble), makes a few corrections to the sometimes clumsy writing and instrumentation of the Süßmayr completion. This includes a second version of the Tuba mirum movement, one that follows Mozart's indication that the trombone play only the opening fanfare figure, with the rest of that part going to a bassoon (not how it is usually performed now). Most interestingly, Suzuki has added an Amen fugue to the end of the sequence, based on a fragment in Mozart's hand written around the same time (discovered in Berlin in 1960).

The tempo of the opening movement is paced so that the soprano's statement of the psalm, quite rightly, sounds more or less like a psalm tone. The luscious Carolyn Sampson sings both phrases each in a single breath and is matched in beauty by mezzo-soprano Marianne Beate Kielland. The male voices are less suited, with the tenor not always on the money pitch-wise (more when he is on his own), and the bass a little woolly. The only curious tempo choice was in the Recordare movement, so fast that the intertwining instrumental lines are a chaotic tangle. The focus in Mozart's life on sacred music makes the pairing here, with the Vesperae solennes de confessore (K. 339, composed in 1780 for the Cathedral of Salzburg), particularly appropriate, albeit in a middling performance, La Sampson's Laudate dominum aside. In fact, not noticed by me before, the "Qui habitare" fugue at the end of the Laudate pueri movement seems to be echoed in the "Sed signifer sanctus Michael" fugue in the Requiem Mass.

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