Exultate Choir / Thomas D. Rossin

Mozart: Requiem [Levin Completion]

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The misspelling of Mozart's name on the back cover of this U.S. release does not promise a good listening experience, but in fact the Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra delivers something unusual here: a novel completion of the Requiem in D minor, K. 626, that was left unfinished at Mozart's death. Constanze Mozart, in dire financial straits and with two children to look after, hoped to collect on the mysterious commission for the work that has been dramatically exploited by creative artists from Pushkin down to Peter Shaffer and Milos Forman. So she gathered up some number of notes for the remaining movements and tried to enlist several of Mozart's students to finish the work. The task finally fell to Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who, it has generally been agreed, was far from equipped for it but, on the other hand, had been present when a group sang through the completed sections shortly before Mozart's death and perhaps had an idea of how Mozart wanted it to go. His solution is thin and contains some basic errors, but it also has enough of a connection in general mood to the parts Mozart completed to make a successful performance feasible. The vast majority of performances since that time have used the Süssmayr completion, which Constanze succeeded in having passed off as Mozart's own and published. But what is performed here is a new completion by Harvard University musicologist Robert Levin. Armchair Mozart fans are invited to ponder it. He begins from the fact that Süssmayr set the Hosanna text with a simple fugue, something unusual in a Classical-era mass of any kind. The work, as in Süssmayr's version, is also rounded off with a reprise of the opening Kyrie fugue in the final movement. Levin and his colleague Christoph Wolff reasoned that Mozart could have intended to complete the Lachrymosa section (in which the genuine Mozart music breaks off) with another fugue on the word "Amen," making a total of five. Levin also extracts thematic connections between the Mozart and Süssmayr portions and builds on them to create movements that are half original and half adaptations of Süssmayr, which may have been adapted from verbal instructions by Mozart in the first place. The result contains what seems like a lot of fugal polyphony, and somehow seems less of a piece with Mozart than the original Süssmayr completion, but it's hard to say how much one's reactions are shaped by sheer familiarity. The Exultate Festival Choir and Orchestra, apparently from the state of Minnesota (no information about them is given), is an above-average specimen of the semi-professional American choral ensemble; the sound is a bit oversized but not dragged down by intonational stragglers, and they offer a fair reading of a score serious Mozart collectors will want to consider.

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