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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mass in C minor The Great for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, KV 427 (1783)
1. Kyrie [7’00]
2. Gloria [2’19]
3. Laudamus te [4’59]
4. Gratias [1’25]
5. Domine [3’02]
6. Qui tollis [6’06]
7. Quoniam [4’03]
8. Jesu Christe [4’56]
9. Credo in unem Deum [3’28]
10. Et incarnatus est [8’37]
11. Sanctus [3’42]
12. Osanna [2’01]
13. Benedictus [3’56]
Helen Donath (soprano)
14. Ave verum Corpus, motet for chorus, strings and organ (1791), KV 618 [3’56]
Heather Harper (soprano)
Ryland Davies (tenor)
Stafford Dean (bass)
John Constable (organ)
London Symphony Chorus/Arthur Oldham
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Colin Davis
Recorded at Westminster Cathedral, London, England, Feb. 1971 (Great Mass) and London, England, April 1971 (Ave verum Corpus) ADD
PHILIPS ELOQUENCE 470 132-2 [59:39]

The main work here is the Mass in C minor KV 427. It seems to have been written by Mozart as a vow to God that he would compose in gratitude a huge Mass should his fiancée Constance Weber recover from serious illness. Providence having seemingly fulfilled all the necessary requirements Mozart proceeded to keep his promise and commenced work on the score early in 1783. For some mysterious reason Mozart broke the promise failing to complete the Mass and writing only the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Benedictus and parts of the Credo and the Et Incarnatus est. Incomplete though it is, the ‘Great’ C minor Mass is considered a masterwork.

The highlight for me is in the seven part Gloria with the moving adagio passage for chorus, ‘Gratias agimus tibi propter gloriam tuam’ (We give thanks to you for your great glory). Sir Colin Davis together with chorus master Arthur Oldham moulded a shapely performance from the London Symphony Chorus with an abundance of drama and feeling. Also in the Gloria is the beatifically serene duet for the two sopranos; in this case Helen Donath and Heather Harper, ‘Domine deus, rex celestis’ (Lord God, heavenly King). Donath, the first soprano, has the coarser timbre and the more excessive vibrato. If the two she is the weaker. The smoother toned Harper is in especially glorious voice.

Equally impressive is the Et Incarnatus est (And was incarnate) which is a sublime arioso here taken by Donath who is accompanied by the flute, oboe and the bassoon. Donath displays an appropriate blend of reverence and emotion and her noticeable vibrato does not present too many problems. The conclusion to the Mass is especially well done with the eloquent Benedictus for the sopranos, the tenor Ryland Davies and the bass Stafford Dean, all coming together with impressive assurance and outstanding control.

There are few conductors that I have confidence in with large orchestral and orchestral forces as I would with Sir Colin Davis. This is a performance of impressive stature and balance and Sir Colin is undoubtedly a distinguished Mozartian.

My favourite recording of Mozart’s frequently recorded ‘Great’ Mass in C minor is the interpretation from John Eliot Gardiner with his Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists, on Philips 420 210-2. Using period-instruments this excellent reading is gloriously sung and played, containing considerable drama and reverential character. In large-scale choral works one cannot usually go wrong with recordings from the Belgian period-instrument specialist Philip Herreweghe. He is particularly impressive with his interpretation of the ‘Great’ C minor Mass with La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale and the Champs-Élysées Orchestra, on Harmonia Mundi MHC 901393 c/w Masonic Funeral Music, KV 477. Another favourite recording from my collection is the performance on modern instruments from Leonard Bernstein and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus on Deutsche Grammophon 431 791 2 c/w Ave verum corpus KV 618 and Exultate, jubilate KV 165.

The sound quality delivered by the Philips engineers is now well over thirty years old but stands up pretty well. Sadly there are no texts provided. Record companies must realise that not every listener will know the detailed layout of the traditional Mass setting. Texts and translations in choral works should be mandatory.

This Philips Eloquence reissue is not my first choice in the ‘Great’ Mass in C minor but a performance from the early 1970s that is worthy of consideration.

Michael Cookson

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