Abbado, Claudio

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsReviews
Soprano: Karita Mattila
Alto: Sara Mingardo
Tenor: Michael Schade
Bass-Baritone: Bryn Terfel

Choir: Swedish Radio Chorus
Orchestra: Berliner Philharmoniker
Conductor: Claudio Abbado

Date: July 16, 1999
Venue: Salzburg Cathedral
Live Recording

Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Cat No.: 463 181-2
Released: August 16, 1999
Beating a dead horse is one thing; beating a dead composer’s work–in this case, the work of at least two dead composers and a couple of living musicologist/editors–is another matter. But that’s what Claudio Abbado, who has led many superlative performances in his career (including an unforgettable Daphnis and Chloe in Boston back in 1970), has managed to do here. What can be the purpose of so emphatically driving this masterpiece, which has enough innate power not to require the kind of overwrought “assistance” it gets from these performers? Everyone seems to be pushing so hard, every note accented, every tempo jacked up a couple of extra notches. Rhythmically, the first movement is completely out of whack. Were chorus, orchestra, and soloist in the same room? Even the gentle Hostias sounds like some lame attempt at a dance, with a strange decrescendo during the return of “Quam olim Abrahae”. A note with the recording tells us that this Requiem performance is “based on” the familiar Süssmayr version, but also “takes into consideration” the completions by Franz Beyer and Robert Levin. No one felt it important enough to tell us what those “considerations” are, and only a listener very familiar with the various editions will be able to tell. The two “filler” works, “Betracht dies Herz”, from an early Mozart piece for Holy Week, and the famed Laudate Dominum, both featuring soprano solo, are a complete contrast to the scary, “sketchy” Requiem performance. Soprano Rachel Harnisch’s singing is infinitely more lyrical and lovely than Karita Mattila’s in the Requiem, and Abbado and his orchestra seem idiomatically at home. This is really beautiful music making. Too bad you have to buy a wasted Requiem to hear it.
— David Vernier, Classics Today
To avoid any confusion regarding the edition of the Requiem used here, let me clarify what’s listed in the heading above. The version Abbado employs is by musicologist Franz Beyer, who took the original completion of the work by Mozart student Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803) and revised its orchestration. Abbado, however, substitutes pianist/composer Robert Levin’s version of the Sanctus for the Süssmayr/Beyer rendition. Mozart’s widow Constanze had first entrusted Joseph von Eybler (1765-1846) with the daunting task of completing the Requiem, but he eventually abandoned the task. Süssmayr was then engaged to take on the project. The original Mozart manuscript showed only the Introit completed and orchestrated. The Kyrie, most of Sequentia: Dies Irae and all of the Offertory exist in detailed sketches. The remainder may have been fashioned by Süssmayr from “little scraps of paper” left by Mozart that are now lost, but Süssmayr confused the issue by later claiming that the Sanctus and Agnus Dei were actually his own creations. There’s a little more history surrounding this work as Mozart mavens are aware, but suffice it to say that we will probably never know for sure where Mozart leaves off and Süssmayr steps in. The music may well be mostly Mozart (no pun intended), but a sizable amount could in fact be the work of Süssmayr.

At any rate, the performance here is excellent. The vocal soloists are standouts: Anna Prohaska sings with such commitment and angelic beauty, while Rene Pape is commanding in the richness and power of voice and his sense for drama – try his singing in the opening of Tuba mirum. Sara Mingardo is also splendid and young Maximilian Schmitt turns in a convincing performance as well and would seem to have the vocal resources for a major international career. Claudio Abbado leads the proceedings with his usual insight, favoring lively but never hasty tempos and drawing accurate, committed playing from the always excellent Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Abbado knows how to shape the score and always seems attuned to its many facets. Listen, for one example, to the Confutatis and notice how he whips up a fury and sense of dark urgency from the male chorus members and then contrasts it with lovely ethereal singing by the women.

The camera work, picture clarity and sound reproduction are first rate. While there are many excellent competing versions of the Requiem on CD and video, by Philippe Herreweghe, Bernstein, Gardiner and many others, this new one, especially in the video realm, will be hard to surpass.
— Robert Cummings, Classical Net [2013]