> Mayr Mass - Mozart Salve Regina [DW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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MAYR Mass in C minor.
MOZART Salve regina; Quis te-comprehendat; In te Domine speravi.
Marian Ulewicz (sop) Christa Mayer (alto) Thomas Cooley (tenor) Thomas Gropper (bass) Vokalensemble Ingolstadt, Georgian
Chamber Orchestra, Franz Hauk. (DDD)
GUILD GMCD 7231 [65.48]


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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 in 1845.

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!

David Wright


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