Hyperion CDA66275 - Heroic and Ceremonial Music
Playing this one was a BIG MISTAKE.
Having written all that, I rooted out my original review. Here it is (from International Record Review)
With the other two works on the disc we are introduced to Fiori Musicali’s choral forces as well as an instrumental ensemble augmented by the presence of His Majesty’s Sagbutts and Cornetts. While Penelope Rapson is quite correct in claiming this to be the “first UK recording” of Zelenka’s Requiem (a work it seems was written not so much to mark “the passing of some great dignitary”, as the booklet suggests, but specifically the death of Emperor Joseph I), this is not the first time the work has appeared on disc. A 1995 Supraphon recording coupled the Requiem with another of Zelenka’s sacred choral works heard on this disc, the Miserere. That disc has since been deleted, which is a shame since, for all the performance’s rough edges (and there were many), it had a vivid sense of involvement which is lacking from these English forces.
Besides the polished and committed instrumental playing, the choral singing seems superficial. There’s no doubt that Penelope Rapson has enthused her singers to deliver Baroque music with real vigour, but something has been lost along the way, while a sense of forced jollity results in the fugal second section of the Miserere sounding as if it was performed on horseback. (If jollity seems an inappropriate quality to find in settings of such misery-laden texts, one must not overlook what Rapson so rightly describes as Zelenka’s “quirkiness”.) Perhaps the choral group is a little thin in numbers – the booklet lists 23 names, but are they all singing all the time? - and possibly lacking vocal maturity, but the blend and balance (and, I regret to say, the intonation) between voices and trombones (which often seem merely to be doubling the vocal lines) is decidedly unappetising. A warmer acoustic – after all the booklet note promises “a magnificently sonorous texture” – and a little more choral bulk would, I suspect, have yielded infinitely more rewarding results.
While the choral forces leave something to be desired, the quartet of soloists adds real distinction to the disc. A sombre, but by no means dark-hued Simon Whiteley, reminds us that it is a requiem rather than something lighter in his impeccably poised “Mors stupebit”, while “Te Decet” finds Benjamin Nulett and James Bowman offering as graceful a pairing of voices as one could imagine. At one, both musically and vocally, this would be the real vocal highlight of the disc were it not for the presence of Grace Davidson. Her unassumed purity of tone, natural vocal delivery and instinctive feel for the idiom, is a joy to behold. Her truly heavenly delivery of the “Gloria Patri” from the Miserere elevates this disc from the undeniably interesting to the unmissably arresting.