Dunedin Consort - Mozart: Requiem - Audiophile Audition

There are more than 125 recordings of Mozart's Requiem formally available these days, all the old and ancient ones of course, plus rafts of new, often more ascetically splendid ones conducted by names like Herreweghe and Higginbottom. But this new one from Linn is different. It's as if Carlo-Maria Giulini's great Golden Age vision for Sony of Mozart's spiritual awakening had been infused with the steel of the best of early 21st century musicological knowledge. In fact, this is the premiere recording of Mozart scholar David Black's new 2013 edition of the completion of Mozart's Requiem by Franz Xaver Süssmayr, using half the number of strings used in the 1793 formal premiere later that year and a standard vocal complement of eight singers, serving up what a small-forces version might have sounded like.

And while John Butt points out in his excellent liner notes that "it would be natural to assume that the first performance of the Requiem was that arranged by the original commissioner, Franz Count von Walsegg - and under his own name - at a mass in memory of his wife, at a church in Wiener Neustadt on 14 December 1793, in fact (and probably without the count's knowledge), Süssmayr's completion of the Mozart Requiem had already been presented in Vienna on 2 January 1793, just over a year after the composer's death." The opportunity it provided to reimagine what this work may have sounded like at its very first performance at St. Michael's Church won the Dunedin Consort its second Gramophone Award.

In every measure, care has been taken to make sure the instrumental balances are exactly as they appear in the score, and that the expressive power that flows from such scrupulous attention to detail gives the players total fluency with the musical narrative, including marvelous brass work and a trombone solo by Philip Dale that almost steals the show. The four soloists are ideally balanced, and since they also form part of the chorus, the vocal/choral flow is seamless.

The ironic thing is that this iconic Catholic Church mass receives one of its most sumptuous recordings in aesthetically incongruous (but acoustically resplendent) Greyfriar's Kirk in Edinburgh, the very antithesis of an Austrian Baroque church or cathedral.

Reviewed at Peter Selesnick's Venice Audio with Rega/Sugden gear driving a pair of awesome Harbeth Super HL Plus speakers, the pressing on Pallas 180 gram vinyl is another big part of the story. While the sound on any of the digital media is prime Linn, the vinyl is something else, powerful, rich, fluid and present in a way that says the best analogue. (On the CD you get three extra tracks, Mozart's Misericordias Domini, K. 222, which may have been performed at the same church during the last year of Mozart's life, plus alternate readings of the opening Introit and the Kyrie eleison. In addition to all the other goodies, Butt's liner note is a model of absorbing, relevant information delivered as if it were a New Yorker story.

21 March 2016