Top Ear

Colin Davis’ LSO Mozart Requiem

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Jeremy Lee writes

Colin Davis was, of course, no mean Mozartian.  Apart from his universally acclaimed series of the operas, he was an intelligent accompanist to the concerti (Grumiaux and Larrocha to name two), and produced a glorious set of late symphonies with the Staatskapelle Dresden on Philips.  Of the Requiem, he recorded one with the BBC Symphony Orchestra on Philips at the start of his career (1967), one with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on RCA in 1991, and most recently, this one with the London Symphony Orchestra on its house label in 2007.

Davis’ basic view on the music has not changed drastically throughout the 40 years–it was and remains a solid, unfussy, and grand view of the music, the kind of performance Klemperer would have given in his prime.  The only large difference lies in the execution of the music by his orchestras.  His BBC performance featured a willing orchestra, a fine choir, and stellar soloists.  The BRSO version was all of that, but with smoother orchestral playing and singing.  With this LSO performance, Davis managed to shave off 4 minutes from his 1967 timing, which is all to the good:  Domine Jesu now dons on a dance-like character, while the Dies Irae is the very embodiment of fire and brimstone.  Gone is the reverential, laid-back quality of the previous two recordings:  here is a Mozart Requiem with uncommon urgency, drive, and drama.

The quality of the execution from all parties cannot be praised highly enough.  The orchestral sonority reminds me of the one Celibidache achieved in his Mozart Requiem:  at once rich and transparent, and all soloists (clarinet, trombone, etc.) acquit themselves beautifully.  I have to commend the timpanist Nigel Thomas for laying such incisive and firmly supportive groundwork to support Mozart’s awesome superstructure.  The choir is also excellent:  less focused than the Bavarian choir, perhaps, but the LSC performs with more gusto, and those rolled Rs in Rex Tremendae are thrilling.  You may not have heard of any of the four soloists, but all of them sing very well, if not exactly on a par with those featured in the previous two recordings (Angela Maria Blasi in the BRSO performance is pretty much unbeatable).

The live recording is very clear, and the general dryness of the recording is not unwelcome unlike some productions from this source and this hall (Barbican), though for some reason the soloists are all stuck in the left channel, which is strange if you listen on headphones.  The quality of Davis/LSO Live releases, most of them remakes, have been variable, but in this instance Davis and the LSO were right to remake it the third time for our listening pleasure.  Indeed, this must be one of the best Mozart Requiems to have been released recently, and if you are seeking a lively, less sombre approach to the work on modern instruments there is none better.

Details

  • Album name:  Mozart:  Requiem
  • Performers:  Marie Arnet (soprano);  Anna Stephany (mezzo-soprano);  Andrew Kennedy (tenor);  Darren Jeffery (bass);  Sir Colin Davis (conductor);  London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
  • Label:  LSO Live LSO0127 (1 CD)
  • Sonics:  Stereo DDD
  • Total playing time:  50:35
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Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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