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François-Joseph GOSSEC (1734-1829)
Messe des Morts (1760)
1. Introduzione [3:57]; 2.Introitus: "Requiem aeternam" [2:31]; 3. Chorus: "Te decet hymnus"[3:29]; 4. "Requiem aeternam" II [1:39]; 5. "Dies irae" 3:04]; 6. "Tuba mirum" [4:25]; 7."Mors stupebit" [4:03]; 8 "Quid sum miser" [1:36]; 9. Trio: "Recordare Jesu pie" [5:15]; 10."Inter oves" [0:50]; 11.Chorus: "Confutatis maledictis" [3:26]; 12. "Oro supplex" [0:58]; 13. "Lacrymosa" [3:51}
14. "Judicandus" [1:45]; 15."Vado et non revertar"[3:47]; 16. Aria: " Spera in Deo" [5:36]; 17."Cedant hostes" [4:56]; 18."Sanctus, sanctus" [0:37]; 19."Pie Jesu Domine" [2:59]; 20."Agnus Dei [1:26]; 21."Lux aeterna" [4:50]
22."Requiem aerternam" III [0:49]
Eva Csapó soprano; Hidegard Laurich alto; Alessandro Corbelli baritone
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
Capella Coloniensis/Herbert Schernus
rec: Wuppertal, Immanuelskirche, 1980. SACD
CAPRICCIO 71 043 [65:49]

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It is not surprising that after the premiere of Messe des Morts in May 1760 the composer, François-Joseph Gossec, became an overnight success.

It is surprising that, even today, a work of such magnificence remains relatively unknown. As few as five versions are to be found in the recorded music catalogue

One may suggest as "amazing" the fact that in Vienna, the musical heart of Europe around 1800, where Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert lived, this masterpiece by Gossec was not performed before 1992 and then only 18 of the total 25 movements.

Joseph Gossec was born in Belgium and later moved to Paris. Along with Sammartini, Haydn and composers of the Mannheim school he was the father of the classical symphony. Initially a choirboy, Gossec later became the protégé of his teacher Rameau.

Gossec wrote some fifty symphonies, and concertante works that attracted attention and invitations beyond France. The "hunting" symphonies of Karl Stamitz and Haydn are considered exact quotes from Gossecís Symphonie de Chasse. Mozartís Symphony in D major, written from Paris, unmistakably reflects Gossecís influence and not least Beethovenís Seventh Symphony contains similarities to Gossecís Le Temple de la Révolution which some suggest to be plagiarism. As official composer for the French Revolution he wrote numerous choruses, marches, and hymns, a Te Deum and the opera, LíOffrande à la Liberté for public celebration.

Even before the publication of Haydnís symphonies, in 1756 Gossec had his own first six symphonies published. However the 25 year-old composer intended his "breakthrough" by a masterpiece of breath-taking proportions. It is unknown for what occasion he composed his 90 minute long Requiem (Messe des Morts) but it is likely that Louis-Joseph de Bourbon commissioned a funeral mass for his daughter Marie who passed away one year, before aged three, and his wife who died on March 9th 1760, aged 23. It is a strange parallel to Count Wallseg-Schuppach who commissioned a Requiem from Mozart in similar circumstances but in that case the composer died before its completion.

Gossec divided the Latin requiem into twenty-five movements. He omitted the Kyrie and some strophes of the sequence. The performance time of around 90 minutes presents recording challenges; it is too long for one CD and too short for two. As to be expected, several creative solutions have been employed.

The Naxos recording with conductor Diego Fasolis (8.554750-51) extends to two disc and includes, as a bonus, Symphonie à 17 parties by the same composer. While the review recording is conveniently on one disc, the original work has been rather "traumatised" to facilitate this. The fugues have been omitted to accommodate a total recording time of 65:49. Given the counterpoint skills demonstrated in the choral fugue by Gossec this is rather a disappointing omission.

It appears that to date, only five recordings of the Messe des Morts have been made. In addition to the two already identified, a Koch-Schwann release on which Jacques Houtmann conducts the Liège Symphony Orchestra with chorus and soloists was the first commercial recording. There is a version by Musica Polyphonia on period instruments, Erato CD 2292-45284-2. This also has abridgements, but its virtues include excellent strings. The most recent recording (2003) is to be found on the K617 label. It employs Choeur de Chambre de Namur and La Grande Ecurie at la Chambre du Roy with conductor Jean Claude-Malgoire. (K617 7152). K617 refers to the work by Mozart for Glass Harmonium, which bears the same catalogue number.

Abridgements aside, what is presented on the review disc is well done. Choir, musicians and soloists provide a very musical and enjoyable performance.

An "authentic" performance of the Requiem would ideally reflect, within the performance variables, the original intent of the rite. While the modern-day notion of the Requiem as a poetic, armís length secular reflection on death, often more operatic than intelligible is common, this was not the original intent. The Requiem was established as a rite facilitating the soulís safe passage from the body, through limbo leading either to immortality and eternal life or damnation.

The text of the Dies irae and Tuba mirum deal with doom and gloom and the perils of the Last Judgement.

Dies Irae: That day of wrath that will dissolve the world in ashes.

Tuba Mirum: The trumpet, sounding its wondrous sound

To the tombs of the whole world

Shall bring everyone before the throne.

Gossecís employment of four clarinets, four horns, four trumpets and eight bassoons to dramatically highlight the drama of the Last Judgement, receives an empathetic and convincing execution on the review disc.

In stark contrast the over-riding message of the Requiem is "hope"- in salvation. This is so beautifully conveyed through the text and music of ĎSpera in Deo" from the Offertoriumí

Spera In Deo: Hope in God, for I will trust in Him as before

Saviour of my soul, and my God.

On the review disc the singing of "Spera in Deo"[16] is quite stunning, and very emotionally conveys this most important human endeavour - hope. Is it coincidental, or intentional and symbolically significant that of all the 22 movements presented, that dealing with hope is the longest [5:36]? There is no perception of inappropriate tempo or protraction. In the version by Fasolis this movement is one and a half minutes shorter [4:08].

The practice of using male voices in roles traditionally sung by females, generally is not one that garners favour with this writer. In the aria "Spera in Deo," Fasolis employs a male singer and much of the magic generated in the review disc simply evaporates. It is not uncommon for interpretive decisions of this kind to bias the preference of listeners away from one version to another.

This new SACD format of Gossecís Requiem on the Capriccio label can be confidently recommended. Its musical virtues more than compensate for the unfortunate abridgements. The beautiful singing by Eva Csapó and Hildegard Laurich is a highlight of this choral masterpiece.

Zane Turner

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