A superior version of Mozart's unique effort
Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah, made in 1789, relates to his involvement in the circle of musical connoisseurs surrounding the Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Viennese nobleman and aficionado of the monuments of Baroque music. It is, as the booklet here aptly puts it, a "cover version" (the German participle, charmingly enough, is "gecovert") of Handel's work, neither a radical rethinking nor a light rescoring.
Mozart adds a good deal of wind scoring, often arranging things so that the winds peek out with a wink toward the end of an aria. The treatments of the flute and bassoon are playful and very Mozartian, yet the music, with the exception of one number, "Wenn Gott ist für uns" (CD 2, No. 23), is Handel's. Even that number, in which the original aria is discarded in favor of a new recitative, has subtle echoes of the original intervallic structure in Mozart's new music, and in the big choruses Mozart plays it straight.
The biggest change for the casual listener is the one from English to the German of van Swieten himself, working from an earlier translation by Friedrich Klopstock and Christoph Ebeling. If "Alle Tale" does not have quite the ringing quality of "Ev'ry valley," "Herr der Herrn, der Götter Gott" gets the message across.
Conductor Jürgen Budday, leading the Hannoversche Hofkapelle, offers a spirited reading that reveals many of the score's smaller details. Although the soprano of Marlis Petersen is a bit outsized for a work that was originally performed with only 12 singers and has, for all the monumentality of Handel's Messiah, a certain intimate quality, this is a superior version of Mozart's unique effort, benefiting from the edge of live performance in a sonically spectacular venue. The booklet is helpful, quoting extensively from a detailed eighteenth century essay on Mozart's effort.
A really excellent production with vitality and great energy
The small but enterprising German label K&K continue to regale the discerning collector with lavish productions of selected works in the magnificent setting of the UNESCO World Heritage Maulbronn Monastery in Germany.
After releasing what can only be termed as a rather excellent 'Messiah' they have now turned their attentions to the Mozart arrangement of the same work sung in German. With such miraculous acoustics available, the recording is truly a sonic gem especially with the distinguished and alert playing of the Hannover Chamber Orchestra which infuses the orchestral parts Mozart composed with vitality and great energy.
The quartet of soloists does not include any real big names but they are all of the highest quality. I was particularly taken with Marlies Peterson whose ethereal capacity for high notes reminds one of the more highly rated Renée Fleming. Rzepka is also very strong as the bass whilst the monastery choir sings with élan and perfect diction, being here on home ground.
Booklet notes are suitably ample as are the recording details which include some stunning photographs of the performance. If you are looking for a high quality 'Messiah' in the Mozart arrangement, then you should look no further than this really excellent German production.