Mozart • Requiem

BBC Symphony Orchestra, Colin Davis conducting
Philips/Speakers Corner 802862LY
Single 180-gram LP
1977/2011

Music

Sound

by John Crossett |  December 3, 2011

ozart’s Requiem may be the best-known unfinished composition in music history. It was begun shortly before Mozart became ill, and the mystery surrounding it still stirs the imagination of listeners everywhere, as historians have never been able to agree upon what it was that actually killed Mozart. The fact that the Requiem was completed at all is a testament to the will and desperation of Mozart’s wife, Constanze, and the talents of his pupil Franz Xavier Sussmayr. Yes, at the time of his death, Mozart had sketched out much of the work that he had not previously completed, so most of Sussmayr’s effort was basically fleshing out and filling in, but there was enough left undone for Sussmayr, and others, to try their hand at finishing this majestic work. Yet even today, it is usually Sussmayr’s version that is most often looked to when the Requiem is performed.

Colin Davis and the BBC Orchestra use it on this Philips recording. Davis has proved over his career to be a master of Mozart's oeuvre, seemingly able to see the wit and joy that Mozart infused in all his works -- either overtly or covertly. However, on this recording, that facility seems to have left him. His slow, plodding reading robs this work of the celebration of life Mozart managed to convey even in a mass for the dead. Not that this deficiency in and of itself keeps this recording from being worthy of attention. It just makes its success a matter of taste.

This recording is made more appealing by the top-notch engineering, which has created a sonic spectacular to enjoy even if the interpretation is missing a little something. Captured in London's Watford Town Hall, this is a clear, clean, tonally precise recording that bristles with air and has a wide-open sense of space. The BBC Orchestra is spread out in front, with the soloists in front of it and the choir arrayed behind and almost seeming to surround the listener. Voices are distinct and alive. The strings are silky smooth but with just enough bite to make them believable. The bass is taut, deep and clear, underpinning the playing with a solid foundation.

As long as you can live with Davis’s interpretation, you’ll find much to encourage you to reach for this LP when you want to listen to Mozart’s parting shot to the musical world.

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