Even though Süssmayr and Eybler completed Mozart’s great unfinished sacred work just after the composer’s death, it remained not really finished, with an inconclusive conclusion. The Libera Me section is what was needed to successfully round off this monumental work. In Rio de Janario in 1819 composer Sigismund Neukomm had the temerity to tackle this task, and his final Libera Me is here presented on recordings for the very first time. Conductor Jean-Claude Malgoire has conducted the Requiem over one hundred times, and he has long been bothered by the lack of a proper ending. He found that making Neukomm’s Libera Me the conclusion of the work provided an entirely new perspective on the whole Requiem, so what we have here is not just a tacked-on imitation but a new way of looking at this deeply-moving religious work.
Neukomm was born in Salzburg in 1778, in a house directly across the street from Mozart’s house. Michael Haydn, also a close friend of Mozart, had the strongest influence on Neukomm’s musical training. The catalog of Neukomm’s works tops the 1300 number, and one of them was a Requiem in C Minor which was performed in Paris. Neukomm was as much of a traveler as Mozart, and in 1816 traveled to Rio, not on a musical journey, but accompanying the Count of Luxembourg on a diplomatic mission. On his arrival he met the most renowned musician there, Nunes Garcia, and they later planned a performance of the Mozart Requiem as a tribute to musicians who had died during the year. Neukomm is thought to have composed his Libera Me for that performance, which took place in 1821.
This Requiem performance employs smaller forces than the version a couple years back directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt on a German Harmonia mundi SACD, and it is not an SACD, so sonics are less etched and less enveloping. Still, the soloists are fine and the performance doesn’t seem to depart greatly from what will be familiar in the work. It is quite a shock hearing another work following the previously-concluding Lux aeterna. I have to admit the Libera Me does seem to fit into the period and style very well – it even uses stylistic devices taken from some of Mozart’s piano concertos and the overture to Don Giovanni. But it still doesn’t sound quite like Mozart. Will have to hear it a few more times to come to a decision about it’s ultimate worth, but this CD is clearly a worthwhile musical document which should interest many music lovers.
– John Sunier