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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 17 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 42
A great work, naked and exposed
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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A great work, naked and exposed

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

MOZART REQUIEM
CLAUDIO ABBADO'S
2012 LUCERNE FESTIVAL
BLU-RAY DVD


This most definitely is not the Mozart Requiem I grew up with, nor is it anything like the one I sang under Erich Leinsdorf at Tanglewood. I might even call Claudio Abbado's 2012 Lucerne Festival performance a 'whispered' Requiem, so exquisitely delicate is his approach.

Don't get me wrong; the moments of power are all the stronger for coming from a background so gently meditative and quiet. Using mostly Franz Beyer's version of this originally unfinished work, the players of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra seem sometimes to be listening (for what? Mozart's voice?), as they spin gossamer hushed phrases before a soloist joins them. Using almost no vibrato, they resemble the texture of an early music orchestra, although most of the players are familiar faces from the great Mahler videos under Abbado. This whispered approach has several effects. It pulls the listener in close to the performers. It allows a super-clarity of lines, some of which I've never noticed before. And it gives the music an intensity that is at once subtle and powerful. Both singers and instrumentalists seem poised over the music, rather than working to get a sound out. And Abbado seems like the god Apollo, hovering over the players as he plucks out first one and then another shimmering sound. (I reach for similes in a vain effort to describe something magical.)

While much of this is 'meditative and quiet,' it is nowhere slack. Lines never droop, and tempi never flag. In fact, the whole is fleeter than most performances, without ever feeling rushed. Part of the magic of this event is that it is both light-footed AND powerful.

Soprano Anna Prohaska, alto Sara Mingardo, tenor Maximilian Schmitt, and bass René Pape are all in excellent form and shade their dynamics with great attention to detail and blend. They and the Orchestra are joined by the choirs of the Bavarian and Swedish radios. The combined choir is of moderate size and matches the precision of the great instrumentalists. (If you're a fan of conductor John Eliot Gardiner's singers, you know what I'm talking about.)

Hearing a performance of a super-familiar piece that is so unlike any we've heard before takes some adjustment. At first, I was disappointed at the lack of warmth and weight; what I was missing was the larger forces used by most conductors before the popularity of more historically informed 'period' orchestras. Actually, the DTS HD Master Audio sound is very good and does not lack warmth. The quiet moments are super-soft, fully revealing the amazingly detailed dynamics within phrases. I won't give up the heavier approach of earlier conductors, but I now much prefer Abbado's more transparent and detailed reading. If you love Mozart's Requiem, you should take this trip.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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