Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mozart — Requiem — Herbert von Karajan


   The story of one significant element can be nice perspective to see the whole. The same way performing Mozart’s Requiem and positioning this work in public memory can be interesting survey into dynamics of the western culture of last two centuries. This legendary work was performed as classic position with developing knowledge on how it should be executed to find most effective proportions or reinterpreted to find what we have lost from original Mozart’s idea and what just part of performing tradition is. Some information on next generations’ attitude against classicism can be traced by analyzing various attempts of completing the full cycle of this funeral mass. Phonographic recordings technology delivered many records being plentiful source for such research, but its accessibility changed the rate of cultural transformations.
   In the fast growing market of classical recordings in late fifties and early sixties basic works were recorded by many orchestras creating the catalogue of most expected monuments of music history. Mozart’s Requiem was one of most popular works every label ought to have in print. In catalogues of most active record companies there were more than one recordings of this popular work. One of famous renditions was published by Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft in 1962 and was signed by one of most active artists of this time, Herbert von Karajan. This is also one of most milestones in the career of the conductor. Recording session of Mozart’s Requiem took place in 1961. Herbert von Karajan conducted Berliner Philharmoniker, the orchestra he was leading from 1954 and Wiener Singverein working under direction of Reinhold Schmid. Soloists were soprano Wilma Lipp, alto Hilde Rössel-Majdan, tenor Anton Dermota and bass Walter Berry. Organ parts were played by Wolfgang Meyer.

Herbert von Karajan — Mozart — Requiem (1962, reissue 1977

   Recording Requiem with Berliner Philharmoniker Karajan had already huge experience leading most demanding works. He was famous for his interpretations of large-scale works including groundbreaking performances of Richard Wagner’s operas at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. In his early fifties he was one of most recognizable European conductors but it was his recordings in next decades what made him one of the greatest conductors ever recorded. In Requiem recorded for DGG he created vision of most romantic, dark reading of Mozart’s missa pro defunctis. Fragments finishing this work set by Franz Xaver Süssmayr are repeating musical material from those composed by Mozart. This makes the work more cohesive but also makes its cyclic construction less ranging. The most common way of challenging this deficiency was to reduce emotions to the level referenced to absolute forms of classical era. But this was also the way to skip all composer’s ideas and aspirations. Good conductors were always trying to conciliate elements of the cycle by bringing them together and differentiating as contrasting parts of the cycle. Herbert von Karajan made it in most exquisite manner, balancing elements of this work architecture to achieve effect of perfect classical form, but at the same time creating great amount of formal energy by enhancing powerful contrasts and creating solemn, grave mood with perfectly matched tempos.
   Few years ago I’ve led the cycle of lectures as part of master class for graduates of musical universities. As one of subjects of the history of musical culture course was lecture about history of performing and interpretative priorities traced on basis of recorded music. I’ve analyzed eight various performances of Mozart’s Requiem fragments. I chose only really best ones. And as an experiment, choosing fragments not shown during analysis, I have asked listeners which performance is closest to their idea of Mozart’s work. More than 80% of the group pointed Karajan’s recording as the most appropriate performance of Requiem. I’ve been repeating this experiment with various sets of performances in next year’s few times, always with the same result – Karajan’s 1961 recording in some groups was chosen unanimously. New esthetic trends are highly appreciated, but talking about one definitive rendition listeners still choose most traditional, solemn and profound performance ever. It says by itself. This version is already the element of cultural heritage. The only appropriate rate is five stars.

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