Dunedin Consort - Mozart: Requiem - The Times

Thirty years after the release of the film Amadeus it's still hard to separate the orchestra's stealthy strides at the start of Mozart's unfinished Requiem from the memory of F Murray Abraham's Salieri, gliding round the Vienna streets being murky and duplicitous at Mozart's expense. The memory certainly holds good for this new recording from the acclaimed Edinburgh-based Dunedin Consort and its conductor John Butt.

However, there are other reasons for the shivers a listener might feel as this dynamic performance gets under way. Following a new published edition, Butt is attempting a speculative recreation of the way the work sounded at its first performance in Vienna in January 1793 in the completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Possibly you yawn: isn't this recreation purely of interest to academics? Not at all. After one blast from Butt's players and the 16-strong choir, lit up with individual colours, everyone who bends an ear should be riveted. It's as though a veil has been lifted. An idiosyncratic but familiar work has become quirky and new all over again, a springer of constant surprises.

There is no separate group of soloists: Joanne Lunn, Matthew Brook and colleagues also sing in the general choir, following 17th and 18th-century practice. Butt's past recordings have followed the practice too, though it's still a thrill to hear Mozart's changing vocal textures unified in this way, dancing with personality. Don't go to this recording for honeyed tones: Butt's voices come sprinkled with salt and pepper, even flecks of granite. But since Mozart always emphasises the human side of the requiem mass text, it seems only appropriate for musicians to display individuality.


As for poor Süssmayr, whose additions to Mozart's music have often been scorned and sometimes displaced, Butt makes a good case for showing him respect. Over most of two centuries, the world has known the work entirely through Süssmayer's packaging; as such, the packaging is part of the historical record. And in the Dunedin Consort's hands, almost every note, whoever wrote it, thrills, warms, and enchants.

The Times
25 April 2014