Otto, Ralf

Performance DetailsRelease DetailsReviews
Soprano: Julia Kleiter
Alto: Gerhild Romberger
Tenor: Daniel Sans
Bass: Klaus Mertens

Choir: Bachchor Mainz
Orchestra: L’arpa festante
Conductor: Ralf Otto

Date: August 8-10, 2005
Venue: Basilika St. Johannes der Täufer, Johannisberg, Geisenheim, Germany

Label: NCA
Cat No.: 60159 215
Released: 2006
The majority of performances of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem in D minor, K. 626, follow the completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr in the Breitkopf und Härtel edition by Johannes Brahms, which has become the closest thing to an officially sanctioned version. Yet it has long been known that Süssmayr’s orchestration was thick and heavy-handed, that his attempts at fugal composition were mediocre, and that his choices in fleshing out the unfinished manuscript were compromises to get Mozart’s music into a performable state. Several experts have tried their hands at repairing the work, among them Franz Beyer, Richard Maunder, H.C. Robbins Landon, and Duncan Druce, but the entirely reconstructed edition by Robert D. Levin appears to have gained some traction with early music ensembles, with no fewer than three recordings. Ralf Otto and the Mainz Bach Choir present the stripped-down score with great clarity and simplicity, so anyone acquainted with Süssmayr’s murky completion can tell exactly what Levin cut out and replaced with more idiomatic and transparent orchestration, and in critical passages, different music altogether. Levin is quite conservative in letting Mozart’s vocal parts and basso continuo carry the musical flow, and he adds few decorations to the rather spare textures, so much of what is heard is unmistakably authentic. What Levin does add is based on Mozart’s practice in other works of the time, so he preserves as much as possible the correct style and avoids Süssmayr’s wooden cadences and banal counterpoint. The reconstructed Amen fugue at the conclusion of the Lacrimosa and the reworked Sanctus, Osanna, Agnus Dei, and Lux Aeterna feature the biggest changes, and while they may require a few hearings to accept as valid options, they are so well integrated in this performance that they almost seem inevitable and unremarkable. The singing of the soloists and choir is pure in tone and light in texture, so every word of the Latin text is perfectly audible, albeit with a German pronunciation of long e that will be startling to anyone expecting proper Vatican diction. The original instruments of the Munich-based L’arpa festante are polished and discreet, so it seems that this rendition of the Requiem is not played up for novelty’s sake, but delivered with sincerity and commitment. The quality of NCA’s SACD surround-sound is outstanding, so audiophiles may want to try out this recording simply for its gorgeous sonorities and resonant acoustics. Highly recommended.
— Blair Sanderson,