sense of tension, of conflicting power and powerlessness, and ultimately of
fear and awe at the prospect of death, is ever-present in this new release from
Harmonia Mundi. Drama is never far from the surface in this recording, and if
it at times perhaps verges on bombast, it certainly conveys the image of a
composer facing death in the eye. This is a recording that conveys the fear and
tension of this confrontation, but perhaps at the expense of the more poetic
aspects of such a conflict.
The voices are immediately full-blooded and rich when they first appear in
the opening adagio; the soprano’ first entry is sublime, soaring over the
sensitive accompaniment of the Freiburger Barockorchester. Yet prettiness is
never with us alone, and the ensemble are quick to emphasise the work’s
darker nature by exaggerating the dynamic contrasts, as found in the sudden
quiet in the centre of the Introitus: Requiem æternam.
Throughout the disc, there is a fine balance achieved between high drama
– achieved through crisp articulation and dynamic variety – and
melodic sweetness. Indeed, one of the most unsettling features of
Mozart’s Requiem may be its juxta-position of beauty with darkness; how
can someone write such sublime music to express something that embodies such
fear and unpredictability?
This sense of contrast is beautifully highlighted in this new release. When
the sopranos and altos glide into the picture after the opening gravitas of the
male voices in the Confutatis, the dynamic and timbral contrast is
stunning. However, it does at times feel almost overblown, particularly with
the tempo that Jacobs adopts here, a tempo noticeably faster than Marriner on
Philips (Academy and Chorus of St Martin in the Fields, 1991). Marriner also
manages to keep the dynamic quieter for longer in the latter half of the
Confutatis, making the tension almost unbearable. Similarly,
Karajan’s DG (Vienna Philharmonic, 1987) reading finds a greater hush at
the opening of the Lacrimosa, making the prolonged crescendo more
striking. Despite the abrasive aggression of the Confutatis and
the missed opportunity for genuine quiet in the Lacrimosa, it is
impossible not to feel swept away by the sheer force of nature of both the
score and the performance here, this force brilliantly communicating the
overwhelming nature of death.
This release is certainly never afraid to be forceful, and gives as much
prominence to the darkness as to the light. Listen to the explosive opening of
the Dies Irae and, with the wonderfully full-bodied choir and
aggressive brass, it feels that we are hearing not only a piece of music that
is glaring death in the eye, but also performers playing for their lives.
Indeed, this sense of vitality and liveliness in the singers (a touch ironic,
perhaps) is matched by the instrumentalists, and the acoustic captures the
imitation between the brass and choir effectively. A more transparent recording
than Karajan’s DG reading enables a more prominent brass and string
section, vital in communicating the raw energy and darkness of Mozart’s
Indeed, compared to Karajan, Jacobs employs a much faster tempo for the
Tuba Mirum – or perhaps I should say that Karajan employed a
tempo that was far slower – and Jacobs is much closer to Mozart’s
andante marking. It is a shame, however, that the opening descending
crotchets speed up, denying the phrase the gravity attained in the more
consistent opening tempo of Marriner’s classic Philips recording.
However, both Marriner and Jacobs are agreed in their faster tempo reading in
comparison to Karajan’s sluggishness, creating a greater sense of
movement in the Tuba Mirum. This heightens the drama of the
tenor’s entry and the voices’ dotted rhythms. Karajan, whilst
aiming for an epic stateliness, achieves more of an inflated sluggishness that
detracts from the grandeur of this section. Yet, even compared to Marriner,
Jacobs takes a very fast tempo; in the Tuba Mirum, Jacobs’
recording lasts just 3m11s, compared to Marriner’s 3m47s and
Karajan’s 4m21s. Jacobs clearly aims for fast-paced dramatic tension; one
could argue Marriner finds a better compromise between dramatic agility and
stately gravitas, as Jacobs does occasionally feel rushed, as in the opening
descending crotchets. Marriner’s tempo is my ideal: weighty yet with a
sense of movement.
Tempo is fast elsewhere in the new recording; Jacobs’ genuine allegro
of the Communio: Lux aeterna creates a fantastic sense of buoyancy,
making the semiquavers sound far more agile than Karajan’s slower
reading. The Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser sings beautifully in the
Lux Aeterna, performing with great purity of tone and a
well-controlled vibrato that never distracts from the text. There is a
beautiful simplicity and delicacy that expertly conveys the “eternal
This recording’s unique selling point is the score it uses; instead of
utilising Franz Xaver Süssmayr’s completion of Mozart’s
original, Jacobs makes use of Pierre-Henri Dutron’s 2016 revised score, a
project motivated by Dutron’s frustration at the inadequacies of
Süssmayr’s version. Amongst the changes made by Dutron is a revised
ending, which turns to an adagio tempo earlier and uses an extra pause –
alongside dynamic contrast – to conclude the work with what Dutron argues
would have been closer to Mozart’s true style. This recording is thus an
important documentation of an alternative perspective on a well-known piece,
providing fresh perspectives and asking further questions about the legitimacy
and efficacy of Süssmayr’s version.
Harmonia Mundi’s new release is a powerful tour de force that
confronts us with the high drama and tension of Mozart’s late
masterpiece. With superb dynamic contrast, tempi that mostly strike a good
balance between stateliness and momentum, and beautifully expressive singing,
this is a highly enjoyable disc that communicates the full force of the huge
emotions that Mozart grapples with. Given that the piece was performed at the
funerals of Joseph Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Rossini, Berlioz and
Hallé, not to mention Goethe and Schiller, this is music that is
intimately connected to death beyond just its subject matter. It is music about
death in the fullest sense. With this recording, it is impossible not to be
aware that one is listening to a piece of music that looks death in the eye.
With the added interest of Dutron’s revisions, the spectre of death in
Mozart’s score is communicated here with the fullest force of life.
Landon, H. C. Robbins. 1999. 1791, Mozart’s last year. New
York: Thames and Hudson.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Sylvia McNair, Carolyn Watkinson, Neville
Marriner, Francisco Araiza, Robert Lloyd, and Franz Xaver Süssmayr. 1991.
Requiem, K. 626. London: Philips.
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, Anna Tomowa-Sintow, Helga Mu?ller Molinari, Vinson
Cole, Paata Burchuladze, and Herbert von Karajan. 1987. Requiem K. 626.
Hamburg: Deutsche Grammophon.
image_description=harmonia mundi 902291 [CD]
product_title=Mozart: Requiem K.626
product_by=Sophie Karth‰user, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Maximilian Schmitt, Johannes Weisser. RIAS Kammerchor. Freiburger Barockorchester. René Jacobs.
product_id=harmonia mundi 902291 [CD]