Frühbeck de Burgos, Rafael

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsReviews
Soprano: Edith Mathis
Mezzo-Soprano: Grace Bumbry
Tenor: George Shirley
Bass: Marius Rintzler

Choir: New Philharmonia Chorus
Orchestra: New Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos

Date: 1967
Venue: Kingsway Hall; London, UK

Label: EMI Classics For Pleasure
Cat No.: CD-CFP 4399
Released: November 1988
The Classics for Pleasure label was unveiled in 1970 and gained a considerable reputation for making classical music accessible at budget price. I recall purchasing my first vinyl classical recordings on CFP at my local Woolworths in Manchester. In fact I still have the first classical recording that I ever bought which was Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 ‘Unfinished’ and Symphony No. 5 performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under John Pritchard on CFP 40370. The reinvigorated label has been reissuing many of their most popular releases and producing some new recordings. The present recordings from 1964 and 1967 have been digitally remastered at the Abbey Road Studios and I can report that both works have the advantage of clear, full and well balanced sound.

Looking at the cover design it feels like being dragged back to the nineteen-seventies. I wonder if the label has missed a golden marketing opportunity to freshen-up the budget appearance and increase their appeal and profile to new and returning listeners. Here CFP have failed to make full use of the wonderful painting: ‘The Entombment of Christ’ by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato. However, I notice that one or two of the label’s newer releases such as that from Natalie Clein and Charles Owen, performing Brahms and Schubert chamber works, have been given updated cover designs. Thankfully there was no need for CFP to update the quality of these evergreen 1964 and 1967 performances.

The Masonic Funeral Music was composed in Vienna. Originally scored for two violins, two violas, clarinet, basset horn, two oboes, two horns and bass it was intended for a combined memorial service given at the ‘Lodge of Sorrows’ for two Viennese aristocrats who were brother Freemasons. At some stage Mozart added parts for two additional basset horns and a contrabassoon. Klemperer sets a reasonably brisk pace in this darkly coloured score, yet he also expertly maintains an appropriate reverential quality. A classic performance from Klemperer, a most passionate Mozartian, delivering a performance of respectful and restrained spirituality.

The Requiem was composed in 1791 in Vienna. Over the years much has been written about the mysterious origins of this score with much speculation about the events leading up to its composition. The dramatic Requiem was Mozart’s last composition and has become one of his most familiar scores. He did not live to finish the score and his friend and pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr was responsible for the completion. Cast in fourteen movements the Requiem is scored for soprano, contralto, tenor and bass, chorus and orchestra.

Before my reintroduction to this CFP reissue my first choice was John Eliot Gardiner’s highly praised 1986 London account using authentic instruments and applying period performance practice. Gardiner’s soloists are Barbara Bonney, Anne Sofie von Otter, Hans Peter Blochwitz and Willard White, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists on Philips 420 197-2, c/w Kyrie K. 341. The high tension and reverential splendour provided by Frühbeck de Burgos and the New Philharmonia is wonderfully maintained from beginning to end. Much as I admire the excellent Gardiner it does not have the same weight and sacred intensity. Frühbeck de Burgos achieves rich and full orchestral textures whereas Gardiner’s players provide thinner and generally more transparent accompaniment with slightly more prominent brass and timpani.

In this version recorded at the Kingsway Hall in 1967 I was impressed with the opening Introitus: Requiem aeternam and was immediately struck by the reverential and inspiring quality of the singing from soloists and chorus. The endearing singing of soprano Edith Mathis from her entry at 2:25 is quite superb. In the Kyrie the re-entry of the women’s chorus to join the men at 1:15 is enthralling. The four soloists in the Tuba mirum are inspired and spine-tingling, and in the short Rex tremendae the chorus impress with their dramatic proclamations. I loved the disturbing and agitated character that the chorus provide in the brief Confutatis maledictis and their singing of the Lacrimosa is gripping and overflowing with pathos. In the Benedictus the incisive soloists and chorus perform radiantly. I was impressed by quite outstanding playing from the New Philharmonia, for example at 4:43-4:57. The performance of the Agnus Dei is thoroughly persuasive, containing an air of mystery, combined with a degree of anguish. In the concluding movement Communion Frühbeck de Burgos and his forces provide a performance of ardent gravity and sacred inspiration.

These excellent performances are a match for any rivals in the catalogue and one feels swept along on a spiritual journey. This is a certain contender for one of my ‘Desert Island’ discs.
Michael Cookson, MusicWeb International