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Brilliant Classics

Anton BRUCKNER (1824 - 1896)
Mass No.1 in D minor, for soloists, choir and orchestra (1864, rev. 1876, 1882)
Isabelle Müller-Kant (soprano)
Eibe Möhlmann (mezzo-soprano)
Daniel Sans (tenor)
Christof Fischesser (bass)
Württemburgische Philharmonie Reutlingen/Nicol Matt
Chamber Choir of Europe
Recorded 20-25 January 2003, Württemberg, Germany
DDD, Super Audio CD, Hybrid Multichannel, Plays on all SACD and CD players

This release on Brilliant Classics contains the same performance of Bruckner’s Mass No.1 in D minor, for soloists, choir and orchestra that was recently included on their all-Bruckner triple CD set which included the three Masses in: D minor, E minor, F minor, the Te Deum in C and the Psalm 150. These are fine works and the performances are worthy of recommendation so I am pleased to see the Mass No.1 in D minor released separately, although for the small extra cost involved it would make good sense to buy the triple boxed set on Brilliant Classics 92002.

Bruckner worshiped two main deities, the Catholic Church of Rome and his older contemporary Richard Wagner. In Bruckner’s writing the spirit of Roman Catholicism finds exceptional musical expression, rich both in intensity and sincerity. It manages to transcend its historical context finding relevance in an expressive, inspiring and edifying manner. The incredible impact of attending Wagner’s operas led Bruckner to compose orchestral and choral works with marked Wagnerian accents in harmonic language and orchestration generally on a colossal scale. Bruckner held no ambition for composing stage works, he preferred to contain the essence of the majesty and epic proportions of the Wagnerian opera and music-drama in his symphonic writing. In Bruckner’s sacred works such as the three Masses, the Psalm 150 and the Te Deum we can hear many stylistic mannerisms influenced by Wagner.

Next to the symphony the Mass was the medium through which Bruckner communicated his love of God both with absolute integrity and pronounced directness. Bruckner composed the Mass No.1 in 1864, two years before his first mature symphony in C major. Bruckner was rarely satisfied with his compositions and was always looking for improvement. He obsessively strove for perfection and consequently made revisions to the work in 1876 and 1882. The Mass No.1 has never been as popular as the two that were to follow, although it is a marvellous work. Evident everywhere is Bruckner’s contrapuntal skill revealing both a real uniqueness of harmonic thought and inventiveness and arguably his predisposition towards ambiguous tonalities. The Mass has that intense seriousness of purpose that is so characteristic of the greatest Bruckner.

Brilliant Classics in their sets typically use previously released material licensed from other labels but in this 2003 recording it seems that they have produced the recording themselves. The vocal and orchestral forces are in excellent form and seem particularly appropriate and sympathetic choices. Austrian conductor Nicol Matt is in total control of the proceedings conveying a powerful and expressive reading that is intensely reverential. The Chamber Choir of Europe, who were founded in 1998 as the Nordic Chamber Choir, and the four well-matched soloists provide an inspiring blend of voices producing a fine quality of tone. The excellent SACD sound is warm and clear. The annotation is as poor as I have come to expect from Brilliant Classics. The text is only in Latin and the translations in the notes are extremely difficult to understand.

Brilliant Classics offer superb value in this well presented SACD. Their ever expanding catalogue is a treasure trove of discoveries. The performance is very fine and at super-bargain price there is every reason to explore this dramatic and rewarding choral work. A most compelling release.

Michael Cookson

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