Jeremy Lee writes
Oh dear. While Karajan’s efforts are very widely admired throughout the world, his somber and strict approach to many pieces may not suit all tastes, and this is exactly one of those. This 1961 recording of Mozart’s Requiem with the Vienna Singverein and the Berlin Philharmonic isn’t at all an enjoyable listen. Take the chorus, for example: the singing is extremely diffused—I swear you can hear all the frequencies between the fundamental “correct” note and an adjacent semitone either higher or lower above or below—and they sing it like they were a) either very bored or b) didn’t have breakfast. Whatever the reason, the result is utter joylessness, and coupled with the equally diffused orchestra whose string tone sounds like the strings were wrapped in gaffer tape and timpani which sound like tuned bass drums, it all adds up to what possibly is the most grim-sounding Mozart Requiem on record.
Everything moves on at a reasonable pace, though Karajan’s conducting really isn’t anything special, and the same goes for the good but not outstanding rank of soloists. One of the biggest problems of this performance, however, is that so many little details you want to hear in denser passages aren’t really there—where are the sine qua non trumpets and organ in the Dies Irae when you need it, for example? What you’re left with is a mass of D minor-sounding noise.
The sonics do nothing to help the situation. It is airless and suffocating, but surprisingly quite reverberant, and degenerate the passages with more complex polyphony (such as the Kyrie double fugue) into mere sludge. This particular issue on Eloquence has allegedly been remastered—I can’t imagine how it sounded like before.
Redeeming points? There are a few, chief of which are the very excellent fillers, including what I consider is the best Exsultate, Jubilate sung brilliantly by Maria Stader and conducted very smartly (and much less muddily!!) by Ferenc Fricsay, and then the budget Eloquence price—I got my copy for 30 HKD!—but unless you think it’s worth the price for the Exsultate only, avoid this release.
So, to sum up, if you want a Mozart Requiem coupled with the Exsultate, get Bernstein on DG’s Duo series (which includes, among other things, an excellent Mass in C minor). If you want the last word in spirituality, get Celibidache/Munich PO on EMI. If you want a period performance—and at budget price, too—Marriner on the Virtuoso series will be a great bet. If you’d like the last word in excellent choral singing, Schreier on Philips is for you, and if you absolutely want Karajan’s, get his later recordings. There are too many great recordings of the Mozart Requiem for me—and any discerning listener—to bother much about this one.
- Album name: Mozart: Requiem in D minor; Laudate Dominum; Exsultate, Jubilate
- Performers: Wilma Lipp (soprano); Hilde Rössel-Majdan (contralto); Anton Dermota (tenor); Walter Berry (bass); Herbert von Karajan (conductor); Wiener Singverein (chorus); Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
- Label: DG Eloquence 469 621-2
- Sonics: Stereo ADD
- Total playing time: 76:37