Harnoncourt, Nikolaus

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsReviews
Soprano: Christine Schäfer
Alto: Bernarda Fink
Tenor: Kurt Streit
Bass-Baritone: Gerald Finley

Choir: Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Orchestra: Concentus Musicus Wien
Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Date: November 27 – December 1, 2003
Venue: Grosser Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, Austria
Live Recording

Label: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
Cat No.: 82876 58705 2
Released: October 08, 2004
This new recording of Mozart’s Requiem (in the edition I prefer, by Franz Beyer), has everything going for it. The soloists are all excellent–really excellent. Soprano Christine Schäfer leads the group with lovely tone and a total commitment to expressing the text through her singing. She’s seconded by the magnificent Bernarda Fink (whose Dvorák song recital for Harmonia Mundi became a Disc of the Month selection), while Kurt Streit’s bright tenor has none of the insipid “church choir has-been” aura that leads so many performances to make do with second raters just because the actual part isn’t very large. Gerald Finley delivers a truly dignified Tuba mirum, aided in no small measure by Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Concentus Musicus Wien, which sports a trombone player who actually makes his solo sound both lyrical and imposing rather than merely awkward.

The Arnold Schoenberg Choir sings its collective heart out in the opening movements, but especially in the Dies irae, Confutatis, Lacrimosa, and Sanctus. Combine this with Harnoncourt’s determination to wring every last bit of drama from the music and with orchestral playing that’s the last word in commitment, and the result is pretty astounding. I can’t remember a performance of the Lacrimosa that so graphically evokes the sound of actual weeping, or a Confutatis so vicious at its opening and so vividly contrasted thereafter. Usually Süssmayr’s contributions leave me somewhat cold, but when played and sung with such conviction, there’s little reason to question their authority and aptness.

In stereo the engineers capture the excitement and impact of a live concert. The multi-channel format, depending on your preferences, is either thrilling as a “surround” experience, or a travesty of what real music sounds like–Chacun á son gout! The disc also can be used as a CD-ROM containing a facsimile of Mozart’s original manuscript, which I found a fascinating and intelligent addition because it encourages listeners to discover just how much Mozart there is in the work, and to think about the music anew. Of course, Harnoncourt’s performance does that all by itself, but it’s nice to have the option to carry the investigation further. In short, this is a first-class production all the way, and the performance is simply a knock-out.

David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com [7/9/2004]