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François-Joseph GOSSEC (1734-1829)
Messe des Morts (1760)
Eva Csapó (soprano)
Hildegard Laurich (alto)
Alessandro Corbelli (baritone)
WDR Radio Choir, Cologne
Capella Coloniensis/Herbert Schernus
Recorded in Wuppertal, Immanuelskirche, 1980
CAPRICCIO SACD 71 043 [66.02]

Gossec’s Messe des Morts has made a number of appearances on disc over the last decade but Capriccio’s offering is a recording originally made thirty years ago and now presented in SACD. It’s none the less interesting for all that and gives a fair idea of the grandeur and curiously compelling intimacy of Gossec’s first large-scale work of 1760. It is one of the most strikingly dramatic effects is the use of a combination of three trombones and four clarinets in the Tuba mirium and Mors stupebit et natura.

A demerit of the recording is that the choir sounds rather too distant; it also succeeds in emphasising some of the two female soloist’s sibilants and adds a rather glassy sound to the orchestral strings. Against that we should note that they do sing well and that the baritone Alessandro Corbelli makes a fine showing in Tuba mirum. The Mors stupebit is genuinely powerful in this performance – the dramatic string crescendi presaging the choral outburst are excellently realised. Of the two women soloists Hildegard Laurich has rather an androgynous alto and whilst Eva Csapó’s powerful voice can threaten to overbalance textures she can scale down volume and tone to appreciable effect as indeed she does in the trio Recordare Jesu pie.

One of the highlights of the work and of this performance is the chorus Confutatis maledictis from the Dies Irae which positively quivers with tensile power, slashing strings and choral strength. That curious moment in the Lachrymosa, where Gossec summons up Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in almost direct copy, is here as spine-tingling as it ever is. Csapó takes her Offertorium aria Spera in Deo with considerable authority and the choir bring, albeit acoustically somewhat distant, consolation in the Pie Jesu Domine in the Sanctus. Herbert Schernus directs his forces with a due distinction for the more interior laments and the more public dramas that the work evoke.

I wasn’t able to play this SACD on anything other than an ordinary set up and am interested to know how it would sound on a dedicated machine. As I suggested it sounds to me recessive and not ideally focused. It’s possible, I suppose, that there would be a spatial advantage in SACD for this most grand of works but I remain unconvinced on the evidence of a simple play-through. Not ideal then but it certainly enshrines many virtuous things.

Jonathan Woolf

Zane Turner also enjoyed this disc


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