I looked forward to this disc. I have enjoyed Franz
Haukís organ recitals and am always interested to see and hear what
he does. Johann Simon Mayr was born in Mendorf in 1763 and was educated
by the Jesuits. He was an organist at several churches and was funded
by Baron Thomas von Bassus and, at one time, the Baron seems to have
taken over his life. Mayr was a composer of operas, some sixty in fact,
symphonies, chamber music and a large quantity of church music. He died
The difficulty I have with this Mass is entirely personal.
I find some of the music to be so totally non-religious and non-sacred
that I wonder how it ever passed the censor. But the Italian influence
and the pull towards comic opera infiltrated sacred music. Style was
the thing, not reverence or tradition. While I do not subscribe to the
concept that church music should be dull, I do also think that to make
sacred texts into opportunities to compose music that is more suitable
to being at a party is, to me, something of a culture shock. It will
be said that Rossini did it but that does not make it right. Haydn could
bring joy into his fourteen masses and yet I do not feel threatened
that we are suddenly going to have a booze-up. Mayrís Mass begins with
a sober but tuneful Kyrie. And it is not dull. Allís well that starts
well although I think the melody is over-exposed and that seems to step
out of Beethovenís Piano Trio, also in C minor, from his Opus 1 set.
The quartet singing is very lovely. So far, so good. The Gloria has
a catchy but very silly tune which is irritating and out of context.
That it is sung in unison and repeated adds to the tedium. Yet it will
appeal to many people and there are some choice moments. But the music
sounds like a hybrid ... is it worship or a party cum circus? No, perhaps
it lends itself to comic opera and that which is comic cannot be sacred.
The quartet singing in Gratias agimus is some of the loveliest I have
heard. A lot of the music is again serious but still not dull. The Credo
has an opening motif in unison exactly as the Gloria began. It is monotonous
and yet we can almost forgive Mayr for, again, some subsequent music
is simply gorgeous. It raises the old, old problem.
How do you assess a composition which is good in parts
and the good bits are really good and the poor bits are really poor?
And to add to the malaise some sections are really awful and yet others
are magnificent. It also highlights one the problems presented in my
essay What Makes a Great Composer (available
on this website). How many works are consistently excellent through
their whole span? One other feature is that Mayrís music stops and starts
and so quickly changeable. One moment we are relaxing in a reverie with
a solo violin and then swamped suddenly by a tidal wave of sound which
is over in a blink and the Hosanna is fugue!
The Et Resurrexit is the limit. I donít know how to
describe it. It sounds like a child on a space hopper of the 1980s or
a child on a hobby horse urging it to giddy-up or a street urchin of
Victorian London common in his whistling. The Credo unison passage returns
and by now, I have had enough. The Agnus Dei is a curiously jolly piece,
absolutely out of character with the text. The performances and sound
are very good.
As I have said the quartet singing is as good as it
could be. Four super soloists.
I have already indicated that this review is deeply
personal. It may be that few will agree with me and that is fine. There
is a lot of good music here but the irritating bits are really irritating.
The Mozart pieces are somewhat slight in length but not in quality and
I am not sure that these performances are that persuasive. But is it
authentic Mozart? The Salve Regina has an interesting history. But then
I am very fussy about my Mozart. What is clear though is that Mozart
is on a higher plain and knows how to write sacred music with the right
balance of style! Class shows!