How “pure” does a genuine article need to be before you can wave it through all the quality control checks? Deciding what the composer’s probable intentions were when leaving a manuscript incomplete (Bruckner 9, Mahler 10, Elgar 3) and opening it up to completions is hugely contentious. Yet calling Mozart’s Requiem in D minor just that, when the composer had completed merely two of the sections before unexpectedly expiring, is stretching matters a little far. That, however, is what we have today, with Süssmayr, Beyer and, more recently Michael Finnissy, credited with an entirely subsidiary role. Does it really matter if it’s not quite what it says it is on the tin? Is a Cornish pasty only that when made in Cornwall, even though the ingredients and indeed cuisson remain exactly the same elsewhere?

Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice and Claus Peter Flor
© Teatro La Fenice

At any rate, performing this work on Good Friday, when Christians remember the death of the most illustrious name in their faith, makes perfect sense. However, how do you conjure up the necessary mood for obsequies in the middle of a beautiful but nonetheless heavily ornate and gilded theatre? This reading of the work by Coro e Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice under Claus Peter Flor was inevitably going to be compromised by the enforced layout: orchestra spread over the entire floor space of the auditorium and chorus stretching back into the stage area on risers. It is challenging enough for singers (some 30 in total) when distance is involved, but then also asking them to perform through the additional gauze-like impediment of face masks is virtually inhuman. The words were very often lost in the blur of sound, but more importantly the attack when it mattered most was simply not there.

Claus Peter Flor
© Teatro La Fenice

Flor, a native of Leipzig and old enough to have been influenced by the Karl Richter school of approaching sacred works in a reverential fashion, shaped the lines of this Requiem with care and an absence of personal mannerisms. But even if you are happy to hear the theatrical elements in the score being downplayed, your ear searches constantly for those instrumental details which allow the music truly to come alive. Though the dark colouring from the bassoons and basset horns resonated at the outset, and the timpani became rather more assertive in the Sanctus than elsewhere, the trumpets had few moments of celebration and the trombones in the Tuba mirum never provided that all-important foundation of support to complement the line of the bass soloist. A harmonium was certainly visible, but audible it was not.

Coro del Teatro La Fenice
© Teatro La Fenice

Gauging choral dynamics in these particular circumstances was always going to prove tricky. The chorus perked up from its initially withdrawn state for the Kyrie and later in the Domine Jesu, as well as achieving a full crescendo on “judicandus homo reus” in the Lacrimosa, but both the Rex tremendae and the subsequent “et lux perpetua” were nowhere near as joyous and emphatic as they needed to be.

By far the most impressive contribution came from the quartet of soloists, and in the Recordare they were not only dynamically well balanced but also ideally matched in their moments of intimacy and tenderness. Ruth Iniesta floated her soprano lines in the Introitus with fine intonation and colouring; Cecilia Molinari’s dark and honeyed mezzo was a constant delight; Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani’s clear articulation and projection of the vocal line placed him in the great tradition of light lyrical Italian tenors; and Alex Esposito recovered from a slight unsteadiness in the Tuba mirum to give warm support elsewhere.

This performance was reviewed from the Teatro La Fenice live video stream