Sacred music always played a central part
in Schubert’s creative life and the possibility of employment
as a church musician held great interest for him at every
stage. Although there were undoubtedly important creative
fruits from this enticing possibility, some of them reflected
here, the overall impression remains the same as in his
other fields of creative work, a feeling of what might have
been rather than what was.
This is not to suggest that the music is
less than first rate; far from it. It is merely to comment
upon the somewhat tragic nature of Schubert’s career as
a musician. For us, our awareness of his work in the field
of sacred music is inevitably dominated by the large-scale
masses; but what we find collected in this Capriccio anthology
reveals interesting, indeed compelling, music from across
the spectrum of his creative life.
The earlier pieces date from Schubert’s
mid-teens, the period of the first songs and symphonies.
As with those compositions, the assurance is palpable, and
the style is very much that of the late-18th
century world of Mozart and Haydn, the former in particular.
The brevity of these pieces, including for example, the
Salve Regina of 1816 and the Stabat Mater composed
the previous year, becomes their very strength, since the
issue of extended development is not encountered. What there
is instead is a complete mastery of means over ends, often
resulting in a sensitive beauty of choral sound.
Clearly if this effect is made, due recognition
must be accorded the performers, both the chorus and the
orchestra. The conducting is shared by Dietrich Knothe and
Marcus Creed, the latter of recent Guildford Philharmonic
and Bournemouth Symphony Chorus pedigree; and in both cases
there is the feeling that the music is sensitively balanced
and shaped, with the full support of the ambience created
by the recording engineers.
It is true, of course, that Schubert’s music
grew stronger and more compelling as he grew older. So it
proves here, as the opening item, the Offertorium from
his final year, shows. Benjamin Britten rightly described
the achievement of Schubert’s final year of 1828 as ‘a miracle’,
and this imaginative and sensitive response to the text
is further proof of that judgement.
The solo singers perform well, both individually
and as a team in whichever combinations are required. The
best of them are the two distinguished tenors, Peter Schreier
and Werner Hollweg, and the voices are always balanced in
appropriate priority and spacing.
Given that much of the music is little known,
the accompanying documentation becomes the more important.
Alas, the booklet does not match the standard of performance.
The editing is inconsistent: for example, some dates are
included, some are not. The texts are not given with translations,
the print is very small and is, moreover, rendered difficult
to read because of the indulgent ‘designer background’ of
a grey forest view. What on earth are such things designed
to achieve? It seems a pity to end on a churlish note, but
this does let the side down in respect of what is otherwise
an excellent issue.
see also Review
by Michael Cookson