MOZART: Requiem in D Minor, K. 626 = Agnes Giebel, soprano/Vera Soukoupova, alto/Georg Jelden, tenor/Heinz Rehfuss, bass/Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Czech Choir/Karel Ancerl

Tahra TAH 660,  54:33 [www.tahra.com] ****:

Recorded at the Montreux Festival on 14 September 1966, this special disc–in stereo and “present” sound–boasts the only preserved inscription of the Mozart Requiem led by Karel Ancerl (1908-1973) as captured by the Radio de la Suisse Romande. The performance Ancerl led in Toronto (23-24 January 1973) has not surfaced in any recorded format. The Requiem we do have bespeaks the innate modesty of the conductor, who like Eduard van Beinum before him, intellectual and self-effacing, sought the limelight only for the music he championed, not the glorification of his own ego.

A simplicity of style permeates this elegant and chiseled realization, intimate, and highly personal in tone. Even the Dies Irae holds few terrors, merely a dire warning of dreaded wrath for our sins. What does scare us is the driven and limpidly rendered Confutatis, which reminds us that our pride will not comfort us in the Hereafter. A sense of restraint opens the work and proceeds to infiltrate the more commonly “spectacular” moments, like the Tuba Mirum and Rex Tremendae; although the latter projects some potent brass effects. Bass Heinz Rehfuss–well noted for the pathos he could bring to Brahms lieder–intones the Tuba Mirum with an anguish mixed with universal sympathy. Ancerl slows down the bass instruments if the Recordare to emphasize the chromatic medievalism of the motet, the edgy tones of alto Soukoupova leading the plaintiffs for Divine Mercy. The ensuing duet, the pairings of the quartet voice, produces a sense of infinite pity and regret, especially from the jarring chords from the woodwinds.

The second half properly begins with the ever-heart-wringing Lachrymosa, here taken as slowly as I have encountered it, the orchestral and vocal sighs over the descending tympani straight from the Abyss. The winds try to provide solace, but the strings and tympani, the bass choir and sopranos, lead us to grim Calvary. As if to counter the lugubrious Lachrymosa, Ancerl moves the Domine Jesu Christe at a gallop, impatient for signs of the (fugal) Resurrection. Tender lyricism for the Hostias, as close to a moment of spiritual peace and fulfillment–at least its first half, until the martial metrics reassert themselves–as we are to receive in this masterpiece. The brief but polyphonically exalted Sanctus leads us to the two, final sections–Benedictus and Agnus Dei--the former with its grand echoes of Cosi fan Tutti, up to the massive fugato; and the latter poignantly testifies–with cyclical allusions to the opening, contrapuntal Kyrie–to the sacrifice the Lord made for the sake of His beloved Mankind.

More aptly, as the excellent liner notes (and pictorials) imply, this disc proves a valediction for conductor Ancerl, who suffered twice for his Jewish heritage, and who bore exile to Canada with the simple, devotional grace he bequeathed his recorded legacy.

–Gary Lemco