: Maria Jette
: Jennifer Larmore
: James Taylor
: Eric Owens
Choir: St. Olaf Choir
Orchestra: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
Conductor: Andreas Delfs
Date: November 7 – 8, 2003
Venue: Ordway Hall, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Franz Xaver Süssmayr’s completion of Mozart’s Requiem is well known, but how many know that Süssmayr wrote a Requiem of his own? In fact he was one of the first composers to pen a formal Requiem in German. The coupling of the elder’s masterpiece and his disciple’s rarity is unique. These works could have no better advocate than “America’s premiere college choir”, that of St. Olaf University in Minnesota. Under the direction of their distinguished conductor Dr. Anton Armstrong, the St. Olaf Choir is joined by a strong line-up of soloists and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for an authoritative account of the Süssmayr, whilst Andreas Delfs (making his second appearance on Avie following an acclaimed Hansel & Gretel with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra – AV 0050) conducts a magisterial version of the Mozart. The Hybrid SACD accentuates all the beauty and depth of these commanding choral performances.
The story that Mozart’s unfinished Requiem was completed after his death by his pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr (1766-1803) must be one of the most famous in music history. There are scholars who claim that Süssmayr made a pretty poor job of it, but this attractively presented disc introduces a fresh reason to persist with Süssmayr’s solution. Conductors Anton Armstrong and Andreas Delfs contrast the most familiar arrangement of the most famous of all Requiems with the world premiere recording of Süssmayr’s setting, in German, rediscovered at a Benedictine monastery near Linz.
With the reputations of Hasse, Michael Haydn and Hummel all restored by excellent recent recordings of major sacred works, can this do the same for Süssmayr? Well, no. Süssmayr’s music strengthens arguments that he possessed only modest imagination despite his competent ability. Of course his efforts to complete Mozart’s masterpiece are more authentic and closer to the composer’s own world than alternative modern editions by, for example, Duncan Druce (recorded by Norrington) or Richard Maunder (recorded by Hogwood). But perfunctory instrumental textures, unadventurous harmonisation and clumsy, conventional melodies confirm Süssmayr’s manifest inferiority to his teacher.
The performances are neatly delivered. The St Olaf Choir are well-disciplined and produce ample drama in the ‘Rex tremendae’, even if the ‘Confutatis’ is a little woolly. The orchestras are efficient, with particularly plangent basset-horns and resonant trombones in the ‘Introit’. The solo quartet makes heavy weather of the ‘Recordare’, although I was impressed with Eric Owens’s dark powerful timbre in the ‘Tuba mirum’. The fascination of what Süssmayr’s own music sounds like will make this disc rewarding for inquisitive Mozartians but I suspect it will not spark off a Süssmayr revival.
— David Vickers, Gramophone
Although this disc attracts the eye for its inclusion of the German-language Requiem by Mozart’s pupil Süssmayr, it holds the ear with what amounts to a heartfelt, unashamedly romantic reading of the Requiem he helped finish. Andreas Delfs allows Mozart’s work time to breathe, drawing terrifically committed singing from the outstanding college students of the St Olaf Choir. This is a performance driven by an irresistible blend of preparatory care, attention to phrasing, and poise. The Lachrimosa, for example, moves by virtue of emotional nuance rather than unrelenting sentimentality; likewise, the Hostias leaves its mark by highlighting subtle contrasts. The soloists complement this full-blooded interpretation, where vibrato is clearly regarded as a legitimate, even essential expressive requirement. Süssmayr’s Requiem, retrieved from the Upper Austrian monastery where the composer spent most of his life, receives a fine first recorded performance under the direction of the St Olaf choir master, Anton Armstrong. Its style has more of the happy peasant feel about it than one might expect of a Mass for the Dead. The contrast with Mozart’s work could not be more sharply drawn. Strongly recommended.
— Classic FM