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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Orazio BENEVOLI (1605-1672)
Andreas HOFER (1629-1684)
Heinrich Ignaz Franz von BIBER (1644-1704)

Missa Saliburgensis [43.20]
Plaudite Tympana [5.18]
Escolania de Montserrat Tölzer Knabenchor
Collegium Aureum/P. Ireneu Segarra OSB
rec Aug 1974, Kollegienkirche, Salzburg
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 05472 77845 2 [48.50]


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Thirty years or more ago, as I was beginning to study music seriously, I went through the rebellion most teenagers do. I threw out Baroque music as being ‘too predictable’ and ‘too mathematical’. Not having yet discovered post-Romantic music, I listened to musicians like John Miles and Rick Wakeman to find ‘freedom of expression.’ One of the things that brought me back to the Baroque with a shuddering recognition of the genius it often contained was being made to study Haydn’s Nelson Mass. If a recording of the Missa Saliburgensis had been available to me at the time, I think my reconversion may have been even swifter.

One of the most intriguing things about this mammoth Mass for 54 parts is that nobody is exactly sure who wrote it – or when. Traditionally it had been ascribed to Orazio Benevoli (1605-1672), choirmaster at the Vatican from 1646. It is supposed to have been written by him for the consecration of Salzburg Cathedral in September 1628, but modern scholarship reveals the mass sung on that occasion was probably the work of the then newly-appointed Kapellmeister, Steffano Bernardi (1575-1635). Musicologists now believe the Mass was written either by Andreas Hofer (1629-1684) or by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) in the latter half of the seventeenth century. There is much stylistic and circumstantial evidence to support the contention that either of these worthies was the actual author, but no definitive judgement seems yet to have been made.

Whoever wrote it, this is a magnificent piece of ecclesiastical music that deserves to be performed more often. It starts as if it means to be Zadok the Priest, continues in the style of a Haydn mass in places and occasionally reverts briefly to the familiar Gregorian plainsong themes of the mass. Written for what in those days were the enormous forces – and indeed, remain so today, possibly explaining why it is not more frequently performed – of a total of seven choirs, two of which are each scored for eight voices, the balance being scored for 33 separate instrumental parts and two organs, this is a work that requires a brave heart and a strong hand to guide it to fruition. The forces assembled for this recording, under the guidance of Father Segarra, seem to be more than adequate for the task, delivering a committed and enthusiastic interpretation that brings out both the majestic and the whimsical nature of the music. The Kyrie and Sanctus/Benedictus stand out in particular as laudatory acclamations of belief, while the contrapuntal complexity of the Agnus Dei at the end of the mass leaves the listener almost breathless.

The hymn Plaudite tympana was also considered to have been written for the consecration of the Salzburg cathedral, but it now seems more likely that it (and the Missa Saliburgensis itself) may have been written for the eleven hundredth anniversary in 1682 of the foundation of the Archbishopric of Salzburg by St. Rupert, to whom the hymn’s text pays homage. This may lend more support to those who believe Hofer to have been the mass’s composer, since in 1682 he was Kapellmeister of both the court of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg and of the cathedral – Biber not being appointed to the latter position till two years later. Whatever the provenance of the works, they are both pieces of enormous attraction, warmly and fondly interpreted by musicians of whom, sadly, the notes tell us practically nothing.

Listen to this disc – you will not be disappointed!

Tim Mahon

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