Equilbey, Laurence

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsRelease NotesReviews
Soprano: Sandrine Piau
Alto: Sara Mingardo
Tenor: Werner Güra
Bass-Baritone: Christopher Purves

Choir: Accentus
Orchestra: Insula Orchestra
Conductor: Laurence Equilbey

Venue: Château de Versailles

Label: Naïve
Cat No.: V5370
Released: September 29, 2014
This new performance of one of Mozart’s, and indeed music’s most emblematic works ever written is the debut recording of Insula Orchestra, a new period-instrument formation co-founded in 2012 by Laurence Equilbey. Along with an impressive range of soloists – Sandrine Piau, Sara Mingardo, Werner Güra and Christopher Purves – and Accentus, the leading European choir also founded by Laurence Equilbey twenty years ago, they offer an intense and stylish performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Composed in his final year and left unfinished, the work is still today shrouded in mystery.
This is a wonderful disc, but Naïve has a bad habit of not giving enough information to the prospective customer. For all the effort put into making this project look cool – and it certainly does – the somewhat silly notes put no effort into giving us real insight into the work. While there is a handy chart of who wrote which parts of the work, no bother is given to saying why Equilbey chooses certain parts over others. I have to assume this is the standard Süssmayr edition, which annoys me to no end. I shouldn’t have to assume anything, and neither should you. Nor should Naïve give the impression that there is only one version of the work, for that’s not true.

From a musical point of view, this has to be considered a success. Accentus is a very fine choir, and they are the star of the show. I’ve never heard of the Insula Orchestra, they play well enough. They also understand that this is not their show, too. Herbert von Karajan always put his Berlin (and sometimes Vienna) forces front and center in this work, a mistake considering how little the orchestra actually does. Insula is a period-instrument group, although figuring that out is another silly chore on the listeners’ part. I will say that they seem to have genuine weight, and aren’t a negative in any way.

But this is about the singing, and Laurence Equilbey directs a flowing and very beautiful performance. The choral sound is beyond reproach, and the men are especially impressive. All the soloists are fine, although I find tenor Werner Güra a little too taxed by his parts for comfortable listening. But no one should downgrade a great Requiem based on a tenor soloist, and the issues of packaging and notation are far more troubling to me. Still, this is pretty wonderful.

Brian Wigman,  Classical Net [2004]