Labadie, Bernard

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsReviews
Soprano: Karina Gauvin
Alto: Marie-Nicole Lemieux
Tenor: John Tessier
Bass-Baritone: Nathan Berg

Choir: La Chappelle de Québec
Orchestra: Les Violons du Roy
Conductor: Bernard Labadie

Date: September, 2001
Venue: Troy, New York, USA

Label: Dorian
Cat No.: 90310
Released: September 10, 2002
When a great composer dies leaving a final work unfinished, sometimes the work is completed by his students or friends and enters the repertoire with barely a ripple of comment. Bartók’s Viola Concerto, Borodin’s Prince Igor, Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto and Prokofiev’s cello sonata are examples. Sometimes the work remains uncompleted and the subject of years of discussion, even controversy, before, eventually, someone is able to produce a satisfactory completion. Bach’s Kunst der Fuge, Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, Berg’s Lulu, and Elgar’s Third Symphony come to mind. In some cases the work is published complete and only many years later are questions raised. In this latter category lie Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann and the Mozart Requiem.

At the time of his death, Mozart had written out the vocal parts and accompanying bass part of 10 of the work’s 14 sections and the first 8 bars of the Lacrymosa. The familiar version of this magnificent work was produced for Constanze Mozart by three of Mozart’s students—Freystätdler, Eybler, and Süssmayer—and delivered in satisfaction of the commission with a forged signature on the colluded manuscript. Besides filling out the orchestration of the entire work, Süssmayer is credited with composing anew the Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei, Osanna and Lux Æterna. It was actually 1823 before serious questions were raised as to just how much Mozart may have had had to do with it.

The fundamental problem is that this is exceptional music and Süssmayer was an uninspired and unskilled composer, so how much of his contribution to this work is based on Mozart’s lost sketches or verbal instructions? Levin argues that quite a bit of it is authentic Mozart, clumsily worked out by Süssmayer. Levin carefully works around the bits of what he sees as authentic Mozart and patches up Süssmayer’s inept extensions. The result is certainly the finest version of the work I’ve ever heard, and since it was premiered in a 1991 recording by Helmuth Rilling it has also been recorded by Martin Pearlman and now Bernard Labadie.

Throughout, the orchestral accompaniment is lighter and more supple, which allows a smaller chorus to be more forward. The additional fugues composed by Levin are beautifully done, perhaps with just the merest echo of the Mozart c-minor mass and the Bach b-minor mass. The “repairs” of Süssmayer’s work are seamless and have the effect of making the work feel more consistent and more fluent. I have sung the Süssmayer version and expected to feel the changes in my throat, but everything came off perfectly comfortably, and my wonderful memories of working on this music are intact. The occasionally recorded Maunder revision leaves out several major sections of the music, but Levin includes all the familiar music and also composes an Amen fugue (based on Mozart’s sketch) after the Lacrymosa so you get your full money’s worth here. Levin’s revised Hosanna fugue is in a single key and shortened in the reprise after the Benedictus (in the customary style of 18th century church music), and will be the other change noticeable to most listeners.

When I was in Montreal in 1997 I was privileged to attend a marvellous performance of Rossini’s opera La Cenerentola and my recollection is that many of these fine Canadian musical artists were part of that performance, so I am not surprised at the excellence of their work on this recording. Nor am I surprised that their approach is operatic and dramatic. La Chapelle de Québec is a fully professional choir and their precision and dramatic declamation in the denser choral parts is truly thrilling. This is advertised as a live recording, but there is no trace of audience sound except some discreet applause after the end. Of the many performances of this work I’ve heard and cherished, beginning with the Scherchen 1953 monophonic Ducretet-Thomson and including the Harnoncourt, Hogwood, and Solti Vienna video versions, this recording will now be my first choice.

However, with a work recorded as frequently as this, a person can pick and choose until just the perfect version is discovered. Some will prefer every note of the Süssmayer version out of familiarity, and some will prefer a more solemn, weighty, reverent, even sentimental, approach.
Paul Shoemaker, MusicWeb International [March 3, 2003]

For those who pay attention to and care about these things, this is the Robert Levin edition of Mozart’s beloved and nearly-recorded-to-its-own-death Requiem. How many versions of the work–in editions varying from the “original” and “modified” Süssmayr to those by Robbins Landon, Beyer, and Maunder–are there in the catalog? If you count full-price and budget reissues, there are more than 80 available. However, this one from Bernard Labadie and his Les Violons du Roy and La Chapelle de Québec, recorded live in September 2001 at Dorian’s home base in Troy, NY, is one of only three (that I’m aware of) using Levin’s sensible, thoughtful, and expertly worked out version of Mozart’s unfinished score. For listeners used to the most commonly performed Süssmayr edition, you’ll find that Levin’s retains the traditional version only “insofar as it agrees with idiomatic Mozartean practice”. This approach, which seeks to “revise as little as possible”, leads Levin to provide “more transparent instrumentation”, a “light retouching” of the Lacrimosa, followed not by Süssmayr’s oddly abrupt plagal “Amen”, but instead by a fully worked out fugue (based on a famous manuscript fragment found in 1962), and numerous other changes, both strikingly noticeable (the structure and scoring of the Benedictus; a newly composed Hosanna fugue) and relatively minor (clarifications and corrections of obvious errors in scoring and voice leading). Those interested in learning more regarding Levin’s rationale and specifics of his alterations, recompositions, and substitutions will find details in the disc’s extensive and helpful liner notes.

And what about the performances? Well, if you accept the legitimacy of this version of the score, you could just stop right here, get yourself a copy of this recording and be perfectly happy. It’s as good an account as anyone has offered so far–in fact, in overall interpretive conception, ensemble clarity (both chorus and orchestra), and quality of solo quartet, this one just slightly outshines either Martin Pearlman’s quicker-paced, period-instrument Levin version (Telarc) or Helmut Rilling’s larger-scaled modern-instrument reading (Hänssler), even though both of these are quite fine in their own right. As he has so often shown in other contexts–live performances of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and Handel’s Messiah, for example–Labadie has a consummate understanding of the internal components of the larger structure–tempo, harmonic progressions, phrases, and climaxes–and a feel for the work’s inherently dramatic character that confirms a natural flow and coherence to the whole piece (qualities that also make Labadie an excellent opera conductor). This is no small feat in this case, for Mozart’s Requiem usually–and with good reason–sounds more like a collection of movements than a convincingly unified composition. Given the above, it’s easy to see why Labadie chose Levin’s edition: it’s the one that most successfully addresses the problems of logical musical transitions from movement to movement (yes, Levin occasionally does make certain harmonic adjustments, changing a key or otherwise “effecting” a modulation).

Labadie’s choir is second to none–clear-voiced, uniform in tone, exceptionally well-balanced, articulate, technically sound, expressively versatile–and likewise his orchestra, which has distinguished itself on many previous recordings for the Dorian label. The virtuosity of all concerned can be immediately appreciated in the searing “Dies irae”–one minute and 41 seconds of whirling terror. Although this is a live recording, made from one evening’s performance on the group’s tour to its eventual New York City destination, it’s remarkably free of glitches, slips, or inconvenient imbalances–a tribute to the musicians as well as to Dorian’s engineers. Okay, I noticed one or two intonational imperfections (sopranos), an occasional passage where I wished for more detail from a choral line (parts of the Kyrie, for example), and an unfortunate electronic crackle near the end of the Kyrie–but ultimately this is a really fine production and a faithful record of a memorable concert, its significance for audience and performers alike heightened by the shattering events that occurred only nine days prior to this September 20th performance.
— David Vernier, Classics Today

Robert Levin’s completion of Mozart’s most famously incomplete work is an exercise in editorial simplication.

Some scholars have been far more radical than he in producing performing versions that ruthlessly strip away what Mozart’s pupil Süssmayr added in the version usually heard; Levin’s approach is pragmatic, using what seems viable of Süssmayr and only recomposing what he regards as awkward or unidiomatic.

The result is sensible and thoroughly convincing, and it has been recorded before; this live performance is taken from a concert in New York in September 2001.

It is not remarkable: the soloists are decent (the bass-baritone Nathan Berg rather more than that), the choral singing and orchestra playing (on modern instruments but with 18th-century bows and bowing) perfectly adequate. The result just lacks the spark of specialness.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian [March 28, 2003]