Suzuki, Masaaki

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsRelease NotesReviews
Soprano: Carolyn Sampson
Mezzo-Soprano: Marianne Beate Kielland
Tenor: Makoto Sakurada
Bass-Baritone: Christian Immler

Choir: Bach Collegium Japan
Orchestra: Bach Collegium Japan
Conductor: Masaaki Suzuki

Date: December 2013
Venue: Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan

Label: BIS
Cat No.: BIS-2091
Released: November 3, 2014
Since its creation in 1791, Mozart’s Requiem has become one of the truly iconic works in the history of music. A prime reason for this is of course its musical qualities: as early as 1814 E.T.A. Hoffmann described the Requiem as ‘the most sublime achievement that the modern period has contributed to the church’. But even before that legends had begun to form around the work; that it was written to fulfil an anonymous commission – received through ‘an unknown, grey stranger’ – is the stuff of mystery novels, while the fact that Mozart fell ill and died while composing it has been exploited to great melodramatic effect. Among the numerous myths, one thing that we know for certain is that its first performance took place only a few days after Mozart’s death, at a memorial service for the composer. The performers used the composer’s incomplete autograph, but very soon attempts to complete the work were set in motion by Mozart’s widow. She first engaged Joseph Eybler and later Franz Xaver Süßmayr for the task, and in 1800 the Requiem appeared in print, in Süßmayr’s completion. This is still by far the most widely performed version, but it has also been severely criticized over the years, and many have tried to improve on it, or make their own versions based on the autograph. For this recording of the work, Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan commissioned a new performing edition. Masato Suzuki, himself a member of the BCJ and the son of Masaaki, has based his completion on Eybler’s and Süßmayr’s work, explaining his procedure in the liner notes to the disc. The recording was made at the Shoin Chapel in Kobe, where the team has previously recorded their complete cycle of Bach’s church cantatas. A stellar cast of soloists is headed by soprano Carolyn Sampson, who also shines in the famous soprano aria Laudate Dominum – one of the highlights of Vesperae solennes de confessore which conclude the disc.

Download the booklet here.

Because Mozart left his Requiem in D minor unfinished at the time of his death in 1791, various completions have been attempted to make it performable, in some way reflecting his intentions and style. The most frequently used version in modern times was completed by Mozart’s assistant, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and despite some compositional errors and clumsy orchestration, its form is widely accepted to accord with Mozart’s final instructions. Another completion was started by Mozart’s friend, Joseph Eybler, at the request of Constanze Mozart, though he was unable to finish it. Other restorers have typically modified Süssmayr’s orchestration, added the fragmentary (and somewhat speculative) Amen fugue to the end of the Sequence, or recomposed parts of the Offertory, Agnus Dei, and Benedictus, which are Süssmayr’s handiwork. In this stunning performance by Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan, the scholarly completion by Masato Suzuki is performed, which closely follows Mozart’s autograph and incorporates Süssmayr’s better additions with elements by Eybler, as well as some changes to the orchestration that correspond to Mozart’s practices. As a result of this careful sifting of material, the Requiem seems to have shed a lot of historical baggage, both in its textures and its sound, and this brilliantly recorded hybrid SACD offers clarity and balance, which enhance the effect of this leaner and tighter Requiem. But much of this newfound transparency is due to the alert performance by Suzuki’s choir and original instruments orchestra, which give the Requiem lucid parts and exciting sonorities. This recording also includes the Vesperae Sollennes de confessore, a work Mozart composed ten years before the Requiem. Thanks to the predominance of major keys and the lighter mood of the music, it provides a good balance to the much darker-hued Requiem. On a bonus track, an alternate version of the Tuba mirum is provided. This BIS recording is highly recommended.
— Blair Sanderson,
Do two unfinisheds make a finished? Not really, but nice try from the Bach Collegium Japan who have commissioned a new completion of Mozart’s Requiem from their keyboardist-musicologist Masato Suzuki. Masato’s main addition is another incomplete movement, a fugal Amen, discovered in Berlin in 1960 in Mozart’s hand and clearly from his final year. He has completed it in Mozart’s style though it still lasts only a minute. He places it after the chorus’ serenely sung Lacrimosa, where its beefy volume and surging momentum seem inappropriate.

The performance is a model of precision in timing and tuning. The opening syncopations have an almost jaunty spring and at speed, the Kyrie runs are clean andthe Dies Irae perfectly together. Chorus pronunciation of the Latin is English except on the word ‘qui’ which comes out German, ‘kfee’. This may be in honour of their mixed nationality soloists, among whom English soprano Sampson maintains a brilliant silvery line and German bass Immler, a sonorous clarity. The four balance equally in Tuba mirum, whose original version with bassoon replacing trombone after the fanfare is given as an extra. The disc includes Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes in an uplifting performance, sometimes lacking dynamic subtlety.
Rick Jones, Sinfini Music [January 1, 2015]

For this recording of Mozart’s Requiem Masaaki Suzuki has used a new edition prepared by Masato Suzuki who is, I believe, his son. In the booklet Masato Suzuki explains that in many respects he has followed the familiar completion by Franz Süßmayr. However, in the first five movements of the Sequence (‘Dies Irae’ to ‘Confutatis’) he has adopted the changes made by another composer, Joseph Eybler (1765-1846), the first person invited by Constanze to complete her husband’s unfinished score. I can only presume that most of these changes are in the accompaniment because when following the performance in my Bärenreiter score – the Mozart/Süßmayr text – I couldn’t spot any changes to the vocal parts during these movements. Thereafter Suzuki says he has followed Süßmayr – though I noted changes to the words in the ‘Cum sanctis Tuis’ fugue where often the choir sing those three words instead of ‘in aeternum’. The biggest change that listeners will observe comes at the end of the Sequence. At the end of the ‘Lacrymosa’ the choir sings the word “Requiem” and there follows a short separate movement which is a fugue on the word “Amen”. This has been written by Suzuki based on Mozartian style and he cites two specific examples from other Mass settings which have guided him.

I may as well deal with these editorial issues at the outset. I’m not at all sure that the fugue adds anything and it is indeed short, lasting for just 0:58. To be honest, I don’t really see the point. For the rest, I doubt many listeners will notice any significant differences from the music we are accustomed to hearing. The Suzukis offer one other alternative in the shape of a different version of the ‘Tuba mirum’. In this, after the initial two-bar figure before the bass sings, the remainder of the “trombone” part is played on a bassoon. Apparently, this is how the music was presented in the first published score and Masato Suzuki points out that most of the instrumental part is not especially suited to the trombone. It’s interesting to hear it in this form though I’m glad that the alternative has been given as an appendix, which seems a sensible decision.

The performance of the Requiem is a very good one which, despite one or two reservations, I enjoyed very much. The choral singing and orchestral contributions are precise and polished while Masaaki Suzuki has assembled an excellent team of soloists who, in their quartets, genuinely sing as a team.

Such reservations as I have largely concern the pacing of certain passages, mainly involving the soloists. The Introit and Kyrie are both excellent with impressive singing by the 24-strong choir – six singers per part. The ‘Dies Irae’ is fast and fiery but I came to feel that the thunderous timpani were a bit too much of a good thing. Sir John Eliot Gardiner in his 1986 Philips recording is just as exciting here but his timpani are less obtrusive and the Monteverdi Choir articulates the music even more keenly than do Suzuki’s singers. In the ‘Tuba mirum’, though no change in tempo is marked, it’s customary to move the music on a bit after the bass solo, when the tenor sings ‘Mors stupebit’. I feel that Suzuki is too urgent in the speed he adopts here and for the rest of the movement; Gardiner is just a notch slower and that’s much more satisfactory. I’m even more uneasy with Suzuki’s pacing of the ‘Recordare’. The music sounds light and graceful, which is fine, but had he taken things a bit more steadily the overlapping string lines in the introduction would have made more of an impression. As it is, the chosen speed risks prettifying the music, despite the excellence of the solo singing, and I feel that what we hear is at odds with the import of the words. Gardiner is much to be preferred here. However, I must say in fairness that Suzuki paces the remaining quartet, the Benedictus, admirably and once again his soloists excel.

I admire the performance of the ‘Lacrymosa’, which is invested with no little feeling, and there’s grandeur at the start of the Sanctus. I was a little surprised that the Japanese singers don’t project the first two statements of Agnus Dei more powerfully – Gardiner’s choir is much more urgent – but overall this and the last movement go very well. My allegiance to Gardiner is not broken but there’s a great deal to admire in this Japanese performance. I should like to hear Suzuki in the C minor Mass.

I’m never quite sure what to make of the Vesperae solennes de confessore, which Mozart wrote in 1780. Among the five psalm settings and the Magnificat there is some admirable music – and the setting of Psalm 116, ‘Laudate Dominum’ is a Mozartian gem. However, all too often there doesn’t seem to be the depth of response to the words of which we know this composer to be capable and, despite the compositional skill, I have a nagging feeling of superficiality.

Suzuki’s performance is a fine one. The first two psalms, ‘Dixit Dominus’ and ‘Confitebor’, are distinguished by spirited singing and playing and these excellent performances are ideally paced. There’s clarity at all times. The setting of ‘Laudate pueri’ is rightly described in the booklet as “a powerful choral fugue” but it seems to me that Suzuki takes it at too sprightly a pace to bring out all the power in the writing – though the excellence of his performers means that we appreciate all Mozart’s technical skill in the writing. I looked out the 1971 recording by Sir Colin Davis, suspecting that this seasoned Mozart conductor would be more rigorous in his approach. In fact, I found the speed that Davis adopts was a bit too firm and steady for my taste, possibly because he had a much larger choir in the shape of the LSO Chorus. Perhaps my ideal speed for this movement lies somewhere in between? In the celebrated ‘Laudate Dominum’ Carolyn Sampson lavishes creamy tone and a winning sense of line on this delectable solo. The concluding Magnificat is festive and buoyant.

Despite some reservations I enjoyed this disc very much and found the expert performances very stimulating. As it’s a BIS disc it seems almost superfluous to comment on standards of presentation. The notes are comprehensive and well written and the SACD sound is very pleasing indeed; the recording is open and clear, presenting the performances very faithfully and musically.
John Quinn, MusicWeb International [February 2015]