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( 1756 -1791)
Dixit & Magnificat, K193 9.49
Vesperae Solennes de Dominica, K 321 26.07
Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K339 24.31
Greta De Reyghere (sop); Marijke van Arnhem (mezzo); Rewnaat Deckers (ten); Jan Van der Crabben (bass). Collegium Instrumentale Brigense; Capell Brigensis; Patrick Peire.
Recorded Steurbaut Studios, Ghent. 10-12 August 1996 Naxos 8.554158 [60.38]

Naxos have released an all Belgian/Flemish recording of three of Mozart's works for liturgical use calling the CD "Solemn Vespers". Do not be put off by the sobriety of the title - these are pieces written for church occasions but which easily stand alone as pure music and as such they are there to be enjoyed.

The three works on the disc were written by Mozart when he was employed by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Each takes the standard form in use by the Church, to write music incorporating Psalms and the canticle, the Magnificat. Because of the limitations of the format, there are repetitions of the text used - for instance Dixit Dominus, Psalm 109 appears three times with differing settings, while other psalms are used on two occasions and the closing Magnificat in each of the three.

During his time at Salzburg Mozart suffered from the decision made by the Archbishop, who insisted that the Vespers were not to be written as arias and ensembles in the operatic style - limitations which are reflected in the works on this CD. K339 in particular seems to me to show Mozart straining to break free from the restraints he was under.

This is a splendid CD. Long gone are the days - if they ever existed - when Naxos recordings and their like could be dismissed as a cheap label with third division performers. If that were ever true - which I doubt - it is certainly not the case here. The performers are excellent and the disc is unreservedly recommended.

The opening work Dixit & Magnificat, K193, dated from 1774, scored for trumpets and drums, three trombones, strings and organ opens with a lively Dixit Dominus, and instantly brought to mind the later Haydn Masses of some years later. The soloists play little part in the Dixit which following a lively opening switches to a slower tempo for the Gloria and the fugal ending from et in saecula. The Magnificat, with its early use of the soloists, has an attractive close with a well-balanced chorus against strings and trombones with a chamber organ.

Vesperae Solennes de Dominica, K321 ( Solemn Vespers for Sunday from 1779) has similar orchestral forces, and in addition to the Dixit Dominus and Magnificat uses the text of four psalms. Especially notable were the soloists in Confitebor tibi Domine (Psalm 110), some lovely four part writing for the choir in Psalm 112 (Laudate Pueri), the soprano's control in the long lines of Laudate Dominum, and the martial ending with trumpets and drum rolls in the closing Magnificat.

The third setting on the disc, Vesperae solennes de Confessore, K339 - (Solemn Vespers for a Confessor -1780) - is almost certainly best known for its setting for soprano soloist of Laudate Dominum - surely one of Mozart's greatest melodies. Beautifully sung against the simplest of accompaniments of strings, small organ and bassoon, this is a real highlight. The chorus - as throughout - is splendid. The Psalm settings are sung magnificently. The highly suitable recording acoustic with its slight reverberation rather points towards the Ghent studio being an erstwhile church, a plus point for works such as these.

The four soloists, fine individuals without a weak link, are well-balanced, and can be heard clearly but not over prominently. The chorus is good in all sections and the recording favours them slightly over the orchestra, though not enough to be a problem. The orchestra itself, which uses modern instruments, clearly is a responsive unit with admirable internal balance.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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