It is something of an oddity that two of Mozart's most enduring sacred works are incomplete: the Mass in C Minor, and the even more famous Requiem. Dr. Robert Levin is one in a long line of musicologists who has completed the Requiem in an edition which is my personal favorite, so naturally, I jumped at the chance to give his new completion of the Mass in C Minor a listen. I was cautious- only the beginning of the Credo had been finished by Mozart, and the Sanctus is riddled with lacunae. The Agnus Dei is completely lacking. From what material would Levin draw to make an educated and sound completion?
The one important thing to remember, is that Levin used as much of Mozart's own material as possible, so much that relatively little of the present work is original Levin. Levin drew from the arias of another work... the cantata "Davide Penitente," in which Mozart reused the music from the Mass' Gloria; Levin used sketches, themes, subjects, etc. from the period in which Mozart composed the Mass. To provide unity, Levin reuses fugue themes Mozart composed for the Mass (e.g. the second subject of the "Kyrie" is reused in the fugue "Et Vitam venturi" at the end of the Credo). Sounds academic, sure, but the reality of the performance is astounding, sounding appropriately Mozartian. The sound is nearly seamless, in keeping with Mozart's unique contrapuntal style. All of the modulations, episodes, etc. are in place. Mozart would have been proud. If I had been less well-versed in musicology or unfamiliar with the Mass prior to listening, I would never have guessed it was completed by another (modern) hand. For that, Levin's endeavors require the highest merit. (The "Agnus Dei" is especially emotionally charged, adapted from the aria "Fra l'oscure" in Mozart's aforementioned cantata, and completed by the "Dona nobis pacem" fugue, the theme an authentic Mozart creation.)
It is a recording one will have to approach with open ears. No, Professor Levin is not Mozart, but he is surely the best living candidate to complete Mozart's unfinished masterpieces. Having heard this man speak to college campuses in person, as well as reading his publications, it is clear his understanding of the subject is absolutely unparalleled.
As for the recording itself, Helmuth Rilling leads with precision and clarity. His expertise with Bach's choral music serves him well here, in this heavily contrapuntal Mozart mass (itself a work of experimental nature following Mozart's exposure to Bach's contrapuntal technique). As for the "brassiness" a previous review mentioned: it seems rather refreshing that finally more conductors are paying more attention to balance with their orchestras... after all Mozart must have included a brass section here to be heard.
The singers are excellent. Diana Damrau alone is reason enough to get this record. She is a great talent and has proved herself to be a true Mozartian. From Dr. Robert Levin's amazing scholarship, to the efforts of the singers, this is a recording a would not hesitate to recommend.