Bertil van Boer
, January 2010
Here is yet another DVD of a live performance of Mozart’s well–known Requiem, K 626, this time from a concert in Munich from 1984, originally recorded for the Bavarian State Radio and Television. In an age when one is besieged by a plethora of early–instrument groups and various competing editions of Mozart’s final and unfinished work, the appearance of this release (re–release?) presents a more conventional performance. As a conductor, there is little doubt that Davis connects with his music, offering a close and sensitive reading of the Requiem, or at least one that is directly connected to the music without any apparent interpolations or discussion of the conflicts that surround this work. One might feel strongly about what portions Süssmayer actually wrote, whether they were “dictated” by Mozart or not, or whether he cobbled together various scraps of sketches, using some and omitting others, to complete the whole. In the traditional performances such as this one, such academic issues are subordinated, if not completely irrelevant, to the musical performance at hand.
I must say that, although the sound betrays its age, it is a decent performance, once the preconceptions are let go, and if this is what one is looking for, a no frills, solid, conventional recording, this will suffice nicely. To be sure, all of the vocalists use a very heavy vibrato, and when one remembers that Edith Mathis and Peter Schreier were both well known for their interpretations of Mozart’s secondary roles, the Despinas, the Pedrillos, the Blondes, then their rather flexible sound seems a bit odd in such a solemn piece, especially with the full power of the Bavarian State Radio Chorus behind them. But the quartet does seem to blend well when needed, such as in the Recordare. Rather than being nuanced, a wall of sound often hits the listener, though the use of a modern orchestra helps with the overall balance.
If this were a recording only, I would have the usual mixed feelings, but as a DVD, there are significant issues, even granting the age of the performance. First, there is no added bonus material. It is subject only, with the camera panning endlessly on the various singers and orchestra. Variety is provided solely by the occasional overdubbing of images, but this leads to a rather long hour, particularly since the usual sound technology on DVD players isn’t that good. Second, there are some images that perhaps one ought not to use. This is particularly found in the pans of Davis during the Sequence, when he stares, wide–eyed and sweating profusely, into the camera. One is reminded of a zombie or madman, or worse. It is hardly flattering and does nothing to help understand his rather fine interpretation of the music itself.
Subtitles are in English, French, German, and Spanish, and the less said about the scant booklet notes, the better. Recommended only for historical performance types.