Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem, K. 626 (completion by M. Suzuki) – Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339
Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Marianne B. Kielland (mezzo-soprano), Makoto Sakurada (tenor), Christian Immler (baritone), Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (conductor)
Recorded at the Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan (December 2013) – 74’34
BIS BIS-2091 – Hybrid Super-Audio Compact Disc with essays in English, German and French, and translations in English
It is one of the supreme unfairnesses of history that a still young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died before completing his Requiem. The completed movement and fragments show glimpses of one of the great geniuses of all time at the height of his powers, drawing on his predecessors to create a style all his own. One can only imagine what Mozart had intended for a completed piece. And despite the imperfections of the standard completion by Süssmayr, Mozart’s Requiem contains some of the most searing, majestic, and memorable choral music in the repertoire. It is downright infectious and sewn into the fabric of our culture.
This newest recording of the piece finds the venerated Bach Collegium Japan performing a new completion by Masto Suzuki. Unsurprisingly, this is an outstanding performance. The BCJ deserve every bit of their reputation as one of the finest ensembles in the world. Every note is perfectly balanced with the 24 singers prominent against the bright, shiny sound of the period orchestra. Blend, a term I am loathe to use, is stunning. Tails of phrases, such as “Salva me fons pietatis” of the “Rex tremendae ” are so clean that it really does sound like there could possibly be only four voices singing. Another breathtaking example is the “Voca me cum benedictus” in the “Confutatis,” but the list goes on! Rests are spotless and wholly congruent with the larger phrase in the “Lacrimosa.” The BCJ sound is warm with deep vowels that serve for spotless intonation and a continually pleasing sound.
And lest this sound like a technical argument for the group’s performance, their sheer musicality is exceptionally moving with different colors to the movements. This is most noticeable in the generous addition of the K. 339 Vespers, a jaunty performance of a completely different character than the preceding Requiem. The versatility of the ensemble, even within music by the same composer, is striking.
The unifying factor, of course, is conductor Masaaki Suzuki whose ideally judged, by comparison brisk, tempos make this an eye-opening program. Suzuki has a way of making each movement of the Requiem purposeful, even liturgically functional (as offered in the excellent notes by Christoph Wolff). From the start, phrases are unfussy but hardly feel rushed. Rather, each is building, pushing towards the call of the “Tuba mirum.” Throughout the performance, Suzuki errs on the side of restraint (in the best possible sense of the word). “Rex trememdae” is played with ease, detached from romantic excess and more intimate. And even some of the lesser movements, such as the “Sanctus,” are validated in Suzuki’s hands. The conclusion with the returning fugue is wholly congruous to the beginning of the piece.
Which brings us to this new completion which is a satisfying effort from Masto Suzuki (not to be confused with the conductor). Suzuki started from the Süssmayr edition while also incorporating additions from composer Joseph Eybler, making revisions as he saw appropriate and most of them are on the subtle side. The primary exception to this is the addition of a fugue after the “Lacrimosa.” The one-minute “Amen” is from a sketch discovered in the Berlin State Library in 1960. At first it is jarring, but has worn well upon further listening. On a whole, those who have found fault with the incongruities in Süssmayr’s effort will find some relief here. The piece feels remarkably cohesive, the orchestration streamlined in many cases, and continues to reward upon repeated listenings. An alternate “Tuba mirum” is also included, a nice bonus.
The four soloists make for an outstandingly sensitive group of singers. Soprano Carolyn Sampson leads with a pure sound, breathtaking in its ease. Her “Laudate pueri” from the Vespers is worth the price of admission alone. Mezzo Marianne B. Kielland sings with a comforting sound, direct. Tenor Makoto Sakurada occasionally sounds constricted, but is musically attuned, and Christian Immler sings with a majestic bass sound.
The recorded sound on this startlingly detailed while still maintaining outstanding perspective. The articulation of the BCJ players is fantastically reproduced from the violins to the imposing timpani and their musicality is captured beautifully . There is obviously stiff competition in the catalogue, and even on SACD there are plenty of outstanding recordings (Harnoncourt had been my favorite). Yet a fantastic engineering effort combined with a sterling performance should vault this towards the top of anyone’s list looking for a recording of the Mozart Requiem. And the inclusion of the Vespers and the new Suzuki completion are both enticing features that make this recording unmissable. While it's impossible to ever know what Mozart intended for the rest of his Requiem, this recording wholly validates his genius and is one of the most persuasive I've ever heard.
Matthew Richard Martinez