> MOZART Vespers K321 K195 K617028 [JF]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb-International

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Vesperae solennes de Dominica (K321) Litaniae Lauretanae (K195).
Soloists and choir of New College Oxford, directed by Edward Higginbottom.
Rec. Dorchester Abbey, July 1992.

K617 Records. K617028 [57.09]


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According to the accompanying booklet (which can be read on-line) Mozart's Vesperae, K321, was the second of the composer's three settings of the Vespers. Grove (1982 revision) lists only two, this and the "de confessore" of 1780, K339, also composed in and for Salzburg. Certainly the de Dominica is not wholly appropriate as Mozart sets the psalms prescribed for the feast of the confessor, substituting Psalm 116 Laudate Dominum (tr 5) for the prescribed Psalm 113. The instrumentation is typical of that used in Salzburg Cathedral at the time with neither horns nor oboes in use.

The Litaniae Lauretanae was written in 1774. Dr. Stanley Sadie, the eminent Mozart scholar, suggests in Grove (ibid) that its scale indicates it may have been written for Salzburg Cathedral, being a polished essay in the traditional Salzburg manner, with choruses in a free homophonic style with much expressive melody and bravura writing for the soloists.

In this performance the Hanover Band, period instrument specialists, are joined by the choir of New College Oxford whose tradition of choral singing dates from 1379 and whose director, Edward Higginbottom, brings good control and rhythmic vitality to the proceedings. The reverberant acoustic and the forward setting of the choir dominate the performance. In K 321 the soloists, particularly the higher registers (the trebles and altos are pre-pubescent boys as is traditional in the U.K. choir schools) are set too far back as is the Band. This hides some weak solo singing on tk1 and tk2 but does not allow us to fully appreciate the strength of the treble on tk5.

The Litaniae seems to come off much better in terms of balance and, in consequence. proves a much more enjoyable experience. The soloists show particular accomplishment in the Regina angelorum (tk10) and the Agnus Dei (tk11).

Despite my reservations, this is a welcome issue given the dearth of recordings of this repertoire particularly on period instruments. The front cover is typical French arty style and you could easily miss the name Mozart. There are brief notes in French and English. The accompanying libretto has a French translation only.

Robert J Farr


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