Prohaska, Mingardo; Schmitt, Pape; Bavarian Radio Choir, Swedish Radio Choir and Lucerne Festival Orchestra,
C. Abbado. Production: Beyer. Arte Accentus ACC 20258 (DVD) or 10258 (Blu-ray), 60.33 mins., subtitled
Almost a full minute of silence follows the conclusion of this Mozart Requiem from the 2012 Lucerne Festival. Before the hesitant start of applause, the camera closes in on a motionless Claudio Abbado, seemingly lost in contemplation, awe, gratitude — or all of those emotions.
If this sounds like self-conscious grandstanding, every element in the musical performance contradicts such an impression. Abbado's Requiem on this occasion — even more than when he recorded it in 1999 — is marked by penetration and restraint. The sense of contrast is less emphatic than in many recorded versions, which, in search of drama, usually stress differences between entire sections as well as between individual phrases.
This conductor downplays extremes in favor of a probing depth and spaciousness. In the Confutatis, to cite one example, Abbado slightly reduces the opposition between the abrasive opening figures and the circling legato passage that follows, and his emphasis is all on the latter, which he imbues with a buoyant, rapturous glow. He is also idiosyncratic in the Benedictus, which he slows considerably and then proceeds to open up, in each of the intervals between the main strains, to a meditative mood. The vocal soloists here seem blended, almost submerged, in the instrumental texture.
Abbado is well served by the superbly disciplined Bavarian and Swedish Radio Choirs and the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. Recalling the stellar soloists in the conductor's 1999 Mozart Requiem (especially the presence of Karita Mattila and Bryn Terfel), a listener may miss that level of color and incisiveness. Yet soprano Anna Prohaska, mezzo Sara Mingardo and especially the men, tenor Maximilian Schmitt and bass René Pape, make an impression with their concentration and precision.
The live acoustics of the KKL Concert Hall in Lucerne can be clearly appreciated in many transparent orchestral and choral textures, and one especially notes the clarity of the sopranos' high diminuendos, which give a special glow to many passages. Director Michael Beyer does not include shots of the hall, which might have added visual variety. Moreover, a viewer recalling filmed versions of the work led by Herbert von Karajan or John Eliot Gardiner may miss the energetic camerawork, especially the dramatically lighted profile shots.
The undisputed focal point here is the conductor himself, whose soulful intensity, both heard and seen, makes this video an important complement to any of the fine recordings in the catalogue.
DAVID J. BAKER
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