Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
A Different Kind of Music for the Morning After
If this version of Mozart's storied Requiem has a little something extra, that may be because it was recorded on September 20, 2001, nine days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Performing at the acoustically splendid Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, New York, Canadian ensemble La Chapelle de Québec channeled the grief and disbelief many felt during that time into the searching, slow-simmering Requiem, the sprawling religious work that Mozart (1756–1791) left unfinished when he died.
From the very start, this Requiem is defined by a marrow-deep sense of loss, the ache that comes with realizing someone you love is gone forever. People all over the U.S. were feeling something like that during those shellshocked days. The Troy program, planned a year before, proves stunningly suited to this moment. From the somber opening through the whispery and fragile "Lacrimosa" and beyond, Mozart's Requiem brings abstract notions about suffering into the here and now. The stirring, life-affirming melodies, which join voice and orchestra in a crusade toward the hereafter, remember the departed and at the same time offer quiet, solid consolation to survivors.
Though the moment of this performance is auspicious, the players avoid overdramatizing. Throughout, the soloists and ensemble err on the side of understatement, trusting that Mozart's themes are sufficient lure. Even the exalting "Rex tremendae" is handled with care: Where others punch it out like a showy fanfare, this group, under the direction of Bernard Labadie, seeks a more muted, rhapsodic reading. They emphasize the inner workings of Mozart's choral writing, bringing the magic he trusted to the subsidiary voices into the open.
More generally, this version does something rare in music. It shows how a composer's meditations on life, death, and spirituality can come hurtling through history to resonate, almost eerily, in the tumultuous present.
Released: 2002, Dorian
Key Tracks: "Kyrie," "Rex tremendae," "Lacrimosa," "Confutatis."
Another Interpretation: Berlin Philharmonic, St. Hedwig's Cathedral Choir (Rudolf Kempe, cond.); Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra and Chorus
F.Y.I.: The Requiem figures prominently in the film Amadeus, which implies, incorrectly, that the piece was commissioned by Mozart's "rival," Antonio Salieri.
Catalog Choice: Piano Concertos Nos. 20 and 21, Rudolph Serkin, London Symphony Orchestra (Claudio Abbado, cond.).
Next Stop: Giuseppe Verdi: Requiem
Book Pages: 530–531