Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Requiem in D minor, K. 626 (1791, completed by Süssmayr, 1792)
Antonio Salieri (1750-1825)
Requiem in C minor (1804)
Valentina Nafornita (soprano), Ambroisine Bré (alto), Robin Tritschler (tenor), Andreas Wolf (bass)
Le Concert Spirituel/Hervé Niquet
rec. 2021, la Chappelle Royale de Versailles, France
Includes a booklet with Latin text and notes in French, English, and German.

On paper at least, it looks like a very good idea to combine Mozart and Salieri’s Requiem Masses together on a single CD, especially when you consider how much their names have been linked together for the last 220-plus years. It is surprising that no-one had thought to do this before Hervé Niquet brought them together at Versailles, exactly one year ago as I write this.

This is among the quickest performances of Mozart’s Requiem that I have ever heard. Niquet adopts extremely fast tempi throughout, enabled by the lighter tonal weight of the period instruments. In addition, right from the opening it is apparent that this is a very lean sounding orchestra, at least on this occasion. I have heard period forces tackle this work before but this is the first time I have been struck by a lack of body to the orchestra. In the Kyrie eleison things sound a mite too comfy to my ears to represent a group of souls desperately begging for mercy. This may have something to do with Niquet’s rapid tempi, because they leave so little room for any emotional impact to register. This lack of impact is even more pronounced in the Dies Irae; it leaves this listener feeling let down emotionally by some of the performance.

Let it not be said however, that things are completely disappointing. There is a very adequate team of soloists, although the male singers have the more impressive voices. The chorus is also very fine indeed. One’s pulse quickens at encountering their splendid attack at the opening of the Rex tremendae. Sadly, much of the time their diction is somewhat obscured by the wide echo of the Chappelle Royale. Niquet has achieved a lovely balancing of the brass and woodwind instruments that is most striking throughout the recording. While I may feel the loss of the high trebles of a boys choir in the Confutatis maledictus on Bruno Weil’s version for Sony, Niquet, to his credit, highlights the dissonances present in this section of the Mass. Niquet also gives the music a huge upward surge of energy at the opening of the Sanctus which is quite visceral, yet ultimately I come away from it all with the feeling that the tears of this mass are less likely to flow at Niquet’s deliberate tempi.

When it comes to the Salieri Requiem, I must admit that this was my first encounter with it, despite the presence of a couple of other versions that exist in the catalogue. According to the article in the accompanying booklet, Salieri composed his Requiem specifically for his own funeral. He was only 54 at the time and it sat waiting for another 26 years until his death in 1825. Salieri’s composition already sounded dated for the time he composed it, especially when one compares it to the Mozart. Where Salieri’s is genteel and classically straight-laced, Mozart’s effectively plumbs the depths of human feeling in the face of death. Salieri’s music is well-crafted but sounds consistently lightweight. The opening of the Introitus is very quiet and redolent of a sense of humility on the part of the composer. He provides music for the Dies Irae that is fairly brief and sounds more like a minor outburst than an expression of the horrors of the Day of Judgment. The composer finds his most threatening sound for the Lacrimosa, in music that inches closer to the genius of Mozart. There are also some impressive trumpet calls that resound during the Tuba mirum. In terms of the actual performance, the soloists remain a fairly decent group although they have less to do in the Salieri than in the Mozart. The choir are fairly consistent but for a couple of weak notes in the soprano ranks during the high arching phrases of the Kyrie eleison.

While there are some stimulating moments in Niquet’s version of the Mozart Requiem, I would not say that it replaces other period performance versions that already exist. Bruno Weil’s all-around excellent version with the Tafelmusik forces on Sony Classics would be my top recommendation. However, this version is certainly worth considering for its pairing with the Salieri Requiem. On reflection it is interesting to consider the possibility that both of these Requiems might have eventually been heard at Versailles had not the French Revolution dramatically changed the course of history.

Mike Parr

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