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1791 was a busy year for Mozart. Already working on Die Zauberflöte, and under deadline to deliver La Clemenza di Tito, he received a commission for a Requiem. The colorful story of what happened next is well known. Mozart's untimely death left the Requiem unfinished. After several composers were approached, it was finally completed by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, a copyist and composer who was working with Mozart on his opera commissions. Over time Süssmayr's version was accepted as the closest to Mozart's intentions, but it lacked in many ways. In 2016, a young French composer, Pierre-Henri Dutron, persuaded René Jacobs to perform his own revision of Süssmayr's Requiem completion. This new version was performed for audiences in a series of five concerts around Europe and was met with widespread acclaim. harmonia mundi is proud to present the world premiére studio recording of this version, featuring the Freiburger Barockorchester led by RenéJacobs. A bonus DVD is included.
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There is no original Requiem. It was less than half-finished when Mozart died, and several composers had a hand in finishing it. By sheer bulk the most prominent one was Franz Xaver Süssmayr, whom Mozart didn't think was much of a composer. The differences have always been stark; where Mozart had completed the vocal lines and indicated counterpoint and orchestration, the music was amazing. Where Süssmayr finished, or as in the Agnus Dei and other movements, wrote completely from scratch, the music was student level.
Now Pierre-Henri Dutron, with decades of scholarship behind him and respect in front, has edited the orchestration and rewritten substantial sections. It will never be 100% Mozart, but the rhythms flow more naturally, the harmonies are vastly superior, and it all concludes with a feeling of tragedy and unreconciled despair. There's no closure.
There is a frequent strong tang of modernist knowledge in some of the harmonic rhythm, and that it pretty much the whole enterprise will be enough to turn a moldy fig livid with possessive rage. But for everyone else, there's superb musical thinking and the usual, ultra-warm Mozart playing from these musicians.
Flammis acribus addictus
Voca me cum Benedictus!
Oro supplex et acclinis,
cor contritum quasi cinis
Gere curam mei finis,
When the damned are cast away
And consigned to the searing flames
Call me to be among the Blessed.
Bowed down in supplication I beg thee,
my heart as though ground to ashes
help me in my final hour.
In context, what’s one to make of this carbon-neutral, tepid affair where eschatology has been reduced to the sleekest of junk-mail? Here, nothing is being wagered metaphysically. Expressiveness and soulfulness have been banished from the realm. Setting aside – if one can – Jacobs’ narcissism: this is an invitation to go glibly into that good night or nothingness.
The Requiem Aeternam sets the tone for the wider performance: it’s death as a non-event. The usual light-voiced soprano of no distinction makes an appearance at the supplication. Consolation is at hand in the clipped phrasing and ugly tone of the Freiburger Barockorchester. Remember: it’s authentic and Mozart always preferred a Tom Thumb outfit, his own correspondence notwithstanding . . . . The performance of the Kyrie is devoid of sentiment or anguish. It motors on through the text. Penitence implies guilt. In the current age, it’s impermissible.
Recall Jacobs’s disgraceful Magic Flute where he mutilates the score. This malpractice intensifies in K 626. Who authorised the allocation of airtime to the soloists in the Dies Irae? It wasn’t Mozart or Süssmayr. Was it the Man Perm Warrior? Could be. The practice is a gimmick is at best. So much for Jacobs’ claim to authenticity! The dinosaurs of old – Giulini, Karajan, Bernstein – would never have allowed themselves such licence.
The Tuba Mirum is another exercise in trivialisation. At this point the dreaded “reconstruction” makes an appearance with superfluous woodwind and re-written strings drawing attention to themselves. The moment at 0’40”ff is a tribute to Benny Hill. The soloists are nothing special. Again, the lack of anguish and supplication are self-evident.
When the choir (all eight of them) address Rex in the fifth movement, it could be a reference to Jacobs’ pampered pooch. Remember to pack his worm-tablets and dog-chews!
The Recordare is another Skip to my Lou variant in its breezy streamlined manner. Affectation from the soloists is evident at 1’36”ff. Did anyone bother to consult the text itself and what it might mean?
The Confutatis – arguably the greatest thing that Mozart ever composed - it’s so pacey and neutered, it wouldn’t scare an Oompa Loompa. In its compression, the orchestra accompaniment is comic. It certainly makes an impression, even if the allure of the smallest room in the house becomes more compulsive in consequence than a tractor-beam.
The Lachrymosa is Reconstruction Central with fussiness in spades. In all honesty, an improvement on Süssmayr it ain’t, so why bother with padding? Why bother at all?
The Offertorium is Norrington-grade in its terminal-velocity and mindlessness. Ever so predictably, Jacobs’ Hostias is a Cannonball Express. As you sing away in the shower, you can traverse this text (and its repeat) in one breath with this miniscule choir. In lieu of anything else, take this aerobic challenge! And again, did Mozart allocate the Hostias to the choir or soloists? Jacobs’ tomfoolery and wantonness with the score are indictable.
The dread and dreaded completion makes an appearance like Jaws in the Sanctus whose phrases end in a downturn as if to dampen cosmic triumphalism. Worse follows. Mention must be made of the Benedictus. In his wisdom, “the completer” took the usual edition, microwaved it for a few minutes and then distributed to the galley-slaves of the Freiburger Barockorchester. For those versed in K 626, you’ll struggle to recognise the Benedictus in this guise (God forbid that I use the word ‘incarnation’ at this point). Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Blob.
Yet again, the perfectly acceptable Agnus Dei has been mutilated to no good end by Jacobs’ accomplice. The all-important third iteration of the text has been mauled harmonically. Soloists yet again make an appearance at this point – on whose authority, it’s not hard to say.
I normally don’t pay attention to the final two movements of K 626 as they restate the second-half of the Requiem Aeternam and Kyrie. But guess what happens here: even though these movements were composed by Mozart (the sole exception being the timpani in the Kyrie which is in another hand), it’s time to close this tawdry affair with another round of improvisation.
Being a member of the Old Firm, I’m offended by this act of vandalism. Give unto Death what belongs to Death. Mozart is the Created Word. If Jacobs continues to molest ur-texts with a narcissism that is more exuberant than his man-perm, well, his fate will be salutary and somewhat warm at that.