With so many recordings available of Mozart's unfinished masterpiece, one wonders what would make this particular entry worth owning. For starters, the Robert Levin edition is used instead of the more common Sussmayr version. The sonics are definitely up to Dorian's usual excellent standards, and the performance itself is exceptionally moving and dramatic.
According to musicologists, Mozart's unfinished Requiem was commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg through an agent to hide his true identity. The Count wanted to pass this work off as is own and have it performed on the anniversary of his wife's death. Some experts claim that Mozart was unaware of the true identity of his patron. Others claim he knew the source of this commission and agreed to maintain his silence, no doubt due to the generous sum he was promised. Of course we know that Mozart died of rheumatic fever before he was able to finish the score, but his widow Constanze, afraid of losing such a handsome sum, had it completed secretly by his pupil, Franz Xaver Sussmayr. He must have done a convincing job as the good Count had this work performed on December 14, 1793 and this has remained the main performance version for over 200 years.
But as with any unfinished work, such as Elgar's 3rd Symphony and Mahler's 10th, there are those who feel they must complete or alter the score believing they have a special insight into the composer's intentions or most likely, new information has come to light. According to Mozart scholar and pianist Robert Levin, while Sussmayr did an admirable job in completing the score, there remain many mistakes and curious aspects that have never been entirely addressed. In the version for this recording, Levin sought to correct these errors and developed a version that he contends is closer to what Mozart might have intended. Listeners used to the more common Sussmayr version will discover that Levin tends to take a less interventionist approach to the score. Instead, he attempts to preserve a more transparent account and most notably, Levin replaces Sussmayr's abrupt two-chord ending of the "Amen" (the last movement of the Sequentia) with a lovely fugue. There are many other relatively minor revisions in the scoring, plus more noticeable ones made to the "Benedictus" and "Hosanna".
Levin's excellent notes in the booklet fully detail what was changed and why. I must say that based on this recording, I prefer Levin's more lightly textured, diaphanous and even chamber-like version to Sussmayr's more heavily orchestrated one. Levin's touching up offers a more seamless and cohesive work. Sussmayr's has always sounded a little disjointed to me. Even with the exceptional performance of Philippe Herreweghe's team on Harmonia Mundi, the limitations of the Sussmayr completion are now more difficult for me to get past in comparison to this new recording.
Fellow Canadians, Bernard Labadie and the Violins de Roy have garnered praise not just in Canada but also across the world for their performances and recordings. I'm sure the date of this live performance (September 20, 2001) in Troy, New York no doubt added a certain emotional frisson to the proceedings. Under Labadie, Mozart's Requiem as massaged by Robert Levin makes for a very cohesive, dramatic and thrilling performance. What strikes me most about the recording is the stunning clarity; not just the recording quality itself, but the performance. Soloists, choir and orchestra are in perfect sync with each other and offer a transparent, well-balanced and expressive sonority that makes it easy to focus on details that seem ever-so-slightly obscured in other recordings. The more dramatic passages are given a blazing-hot intensity truly thrilling especially in the "Dies Irae". The Violins de Roy also deliver the goods with their clear intonation, lovely airy tone and intensity of playing. These are all qualities I have noticed on other recordings by this conductor and group. I eagerly await their next project.
Of all the recordings of this work, including the Karajan, Herreweghe and Davis readings, for me, this one comes closest in communicating the tragic aspects of Mozart's last masterpiece, not to mention Dorian's wonderful sonics which excel at clarity and detail but not in a cold clinical manner. As with other recordings, Dorian pairs this clean window with a lovely warmth and bloom that is intoxicating. Considering that this is a live recording from a public performance with nary a blemish, this is quite surprising. Whether or not you agree with Levin's alterations, this fine disc is definitely worth hearing. All in all, a wonderful release that would make a fine acquisition no matter how many versions you may already own.