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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Rare Choral Works
CD 1
Veni Sancte Spiritus, K. 47 (1768) [3.44]
Two excerpts from the Oratorio: La Betulia liberata (The Liberation of Bethulia), K. 118 (1771): Del pari infeconda [6.36]; Terribile d’aspetto [4.05]
Offertory in D minor, Misericordias Domini, K. 222 (1775) [5.22]
Church Sonata in C major No. 14 ‘pro festis pallii’ for orchestra and organ, K. 278 (1777) [3.45]
Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento in E flat, K. 243 (1776) [31.50]
Offertory in D, Venite populi, K. 260 (1776) [4.26]
CD 2
Regina coeli in C major, K. 108 (1771) [13.32]
Litaniae Lauretanae BVM in B flat, K. 109 (1771) [10.37]
Church Sonata No. 16 in C major for orchestra and organ, K. 329 (c. 1779) [4.16]
Oratorio: Davide penitente, K. 469 (1785) [42.36]
Gloriae Dei Cantores/Elizabeth C. Patterson
Vox Caeli Sinfonia/Richard K. Pugsley
David Chalmers (organ)
rec. November 2005, Church of the Transfiguration, nr. Cape Cod Bay, Orleans, Massachusetts, USA. DDD
GLORIAE DEI CANTORES GDCD 039 [59.08 + 71.01]


To celebrate the special 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, Gloriae Dei Cantores and Vox Caeli Sinfonia joined forces at the Church of the Transfiguration, Orleans to record a selection of Mozart’s rare sacred choral works.
 
As a refreshing change to the usual Mozart sacred choral scores this release presents a relatively unknown side of Mozart’s genius with scores that are rarely heard in the concert hall or the service of worship. Notably the release contains a rare account of the largely forgotten oratorio Davide penitente, K. 469. Also there are two excerpts from Mozart’s only original oratorio, La Betulia liberata, as well as two Litanies and several shorter choral works. In addition, two Church Sonatas are included as fill-ups.
 
Mozart composed his Davide penitente 1785 at Vienna, well after his sojourn in Salzburg had ended. In the last decade of his life his interest in sacred music had declined. Davide penitente owes its existence to the Tonkunstier-Sozietat, a Viennese benevolent society who commissioned the work for their Lenten pension fund benefit. For the score Mozart decided to recycle music from his incomplete C Minor Mass, K. 427 from Vienna in 1782/83. Mozart used the Kyrie and the Gloria but not the Credo. He composed two new arias that were custom-designed for his soloists, who were virtuoso singers. For the text it is thought that Mozart turned to Lorenzo Da Ponte who used the psalms of David, both penitential and joyful.
 
Following a commission from the wealthy Don Giuseppe Ximena of Padua, Prince of Aragon, Mozart composed La Betulia liberata - his only real oratorio. Written in 1771 in both Italy and Salzburg the oratorio fell behind the opera Ascanio in Alba in his list of priorities and he never heard this sacred score performed. The texts were drawn from the Scriptures by Viennese court poet Pietro Metastasio, from the apocryphal Book of Judith. This recording presents two arias: Del pari infeconda and Terribile d’aspetto.
 
Composed by Mozart in Salzburg, in 1771, the Litaniae Lauretanae was written for the Salzburg cathedral. Litanies consist of a series of invocations or supplications with responses and this Litaniae Lauretanae takes its title from Loreto, a popular destination for pilgrims. Mozart writes compactly, expressing the text in a direct, unfussy way. The substantial Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento was composed in 1776 in Salzburg. An inventive and richly expressive work the Litany was performed in Salzburg cathedral as well as in other cities with great success and is arguably the finest sacred work from his Salzburg years. Mozart composed with a new boldness of expression and an interesting touch is his use of Gregorian chant in the Viaticum.
 
The Regina coeli was composed in Salzburg in 1771 as one of the Marian antiphons for vespers during Eastertide. Each of the four sections displays characteristics of both the Italian and the Austrian traditions. It is a work of festive spirit and celebration. The Veni Sancte Spiritus is a short single movement work that Mozart composed in Vienna in 1768. A similar format is followed by the two offertories: the Misericordias Domini and also by the Venite populi, also 1776 from his Salzburg years.
 
This double contains two of the seventeen Church Sonatas (Epistle Sonatas) that Mozart wrote for use in Salzburg between the years 1772 and 1780. The Church Sonatas feature the use of the organ and were written to bridge the short liturgical gap between the Epistle and the Gospel at Mass. Seven of his Church Sonatas were composed for two solo violins, bass and organ and another seven for strings and organ. The K. 278 and K. 329 are two of the three scores that Mozart composed for orchestra and organ. They date from 1777 and 1779 respectively. On this recording it is extremely difficult to hear the organ part over the orchestra which is a common fault with recordings of these works.
 
The forty-voice ensemble Glorić Dei Cantores (Singers to the Glory of God) under the direction of Elizabeth Patterson are in really fine voice and it is difficult not to be impressed by their security of ensemble. Ten soloists are named in the booklet notes and although there are episodes of unsteadiness and one or two uncomfortable vibratos it is hard to find too much fault with their performances. I especially enjoyed the voice of bass Paul Norman, who is rich, clear and expressive in Achior’s aria Terrible d’aspetto in Betulia. The performances of the sopranos Sr. Christine Helfrich and Kathy Schuman are also worthy of note. The Vox Caeli Sinfonia (Voice of Heaven Symphony) are directed by Richard Pugsley and perfectly complement Gloriae Dei Cantores. Their playing is impressive being especially alert and sensitive.
 
The rarity of many of these sacred scores makes it difficult to find alternative recordings with the same programme to use as comparisons. If I was to nominate just one recording of Mozart’s sacred choral works for inclusion in a collection it would be a recent MDG Gold release from the Kölner Kammerchor and the Collegium Cartusianum under the direction of Peter Neumann of Salzburg Sacred Music. That issue comprises the Vesperae solennes de confessore, Missa solemnis, Church Sonata No. 17 and Regina coeli (MDG Gold SACD 932 1346-6). Neumann’s recording was made in 2004 at the Trinitatiskirche, Köln and is notable for high quality performances from the choir and orchestra. The soloists; soprano Cornelia Samuelis, alto Ursula Eittinger, tenor Benoît Haller and bass Markus Flaig provide performances of the utmost reverence and sincerity, avoiding any temptation toward unnecessary ostentation.
 
This well packaged release from Gloriae Dei Cantores contains full Latin texts with English translations and fascinating and informative liner notes from organist David Chalmers. Although not presenting too many problems the sound feels close and slightly over-bright in the forte passages.
 
It is good to hear some of Mozart’s lesser performed sacred choral works in this his anniversary year.
 
Michael Cookson
 

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