Laurence Equilbey / Insula Orchestra / Accentus MOZART Requiem

Laurence Equilbey's 2014 Naïve release of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's unfinished Requiem in D minor belongs to the category of historically informed performances, both in the actual execution and in the intentions of the performance. Obviously, presenting the Requiem with her hand-picked choir Accentus, and Insula, a small orchestra that uses original 18th century instruments, defines it as a period interpretation, and all the stylistic norms are observed. From the glossy senza vibrato of the strings to the crisp drum strokes of the timpani, and from the pure, fluid counterpoint of the small choir to the tasteful embellishments of the vocal soloists, everything sounds correct and polished to perfection. Yet Equilbey goes beyond the latest ideas of period practice to something more germane to the historical context, because she uses the oldest performing version that exists, the much-disparaged completion by Franz Xaver Süssmayr. Hearing this version played in authentic Classical style (with only the slightest modifications for better voice-leading and orchestration), it is actually more convincing than several modern revisions, not merely because of the established provenance -- we know that Mozart gave instructions to Süssmayr, and presumably, they were followed closely -- but because no hypothetical sections or cleverly refashioned movements have been added. Ultimately, Süssmayr's completion works brilliantly when played well in period style, and the idea that Mozart communicated the essential music to his student seems to be validated in this extraordinary reading. Equilbey has complete control over the performance, and her gradations of dynamics and sectional balance prove that the Süssmayr version can be wonderful when the right artists perform it. Naïve's sound is a little variable at times, but over all, the balance between the singers and the orchestra is carefully maintained. (Blair Sanderson)

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