Marriner, Neville

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsReviews
Soprano: Sylvia McNair
Alto: Carolyn Watkinson
Tenor: Francisco Araiza
Bass: Robert Lloyd

Choir: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus
Orchestra: Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Conductor: Sir Neville Marriner

Date: February 1990
Venue: London

Label: Philips
Cat No.: 432 087-2
Released: February 22, 1991
When the Carmelite priest Roland Murphy penned an exquisite commentary on the amorous biblical book called the Song of Songs, it was observed that this might well stand as final evidence that experience is not a prerequisite of true knowledge.

From what this non-professional reviewer has gleaned of Mozart’s life, the colorful composer was unacquainted both with penitence and the spiritual sublimities of which this Requiem sings. Ditto the experience of death, though he (rightly) believed his own was impending.

As with Fr. Murphy, ignorance proved no impediment to his skill with a pen. Then along comes a glorious cast, studded with the usual unsurpassable suspects (Neville Marriner and the ubiquitous Academy and Chorus of St Martin in the Fields, for example) and the performance of a career (say, the outlandishly talented Sylvia McNair, she of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music) to take up where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his pupil-in-arms Franz Xaver Süssmayr left off, with Costanze standing nervously by in hopes that the final check would soon arrive in the post.

The result is an ineffably beautiful academic hour of music, the kind that reminds one why there will ever be only one Mozart to interpret, reinterpret, and then to be honored for his wily, irreverent genius. Well did the pious Salieri in the memorable fictitious film look at Mozart’s life and wonder how God could make divine music flow from the soul of an impious fool. May such divine ironies multiply.

Any music that emerges from under Marriner’s baton is precise, a feature that serves particularly well when Mozart is on the stand. Nevertheless, precision does not here supplant passion. The dynamic range produced by the ensemble(s) and recorded by Philips is awesome and moving.

The intertwining, quasi-fugal play of the voices in the opening statement (‘Requiem’) bears careful hearing over and over again. Each part achieves its own nobility, this with a clarity that loses nothing as one layer is placed over another. Then listen to the consonantal entrance of each part in the ‘Kyrie’. This is astonishing choral work, undergirded by the expected instrumental excellence. Teased by McNair’s brief flurry in the ‘Requiem’, by the end of the choral fireworks of the ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Dies Irae’, one is left almost panting for the soloists to bring it on.

I’m almost ashamed to gush this way, but let me gush on: Araiza’s tenor follows Robert Lloyd’s bass, then cedes to the contralto Watkinson, then … How does a man find music like this in his head? How does it get to his pen, or to his student’s? And—the mind races beyond Mozart and reviews—how do the materialists manage to bang on about their thing in a world where such beauty happens?

Gott sei dank for a world in which unholy fools write sacred music and musicians like this perform it with such scientific precision and soul’s passion. In this place, Salieri meets his better and the reverent Mr. Bach, perhaps, meets his equal. The latter—if historical sequence could be reversed—would not quarrel, but rather scratch yet again that familiar final attribution in recognition of the source of his less godly precursor’s gift: soli deo gloria.
— David Baer [December 24, 2007]