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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Brilliant Classics

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Sacred Choral Works
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92113
[15 CDs]



Requiem in D Minor KV 626
Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento in E flat, KV 243
Litaniae Lauretanae in B flat major KV 109
Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento in B flat major KV 125
Litaniae Lauretanae in D major KV 195
Vesperae solennes de Dominica in C major KV 321
Vesperae solennes de Confessore in C major KV 339
Regina Coeli in C major KV 108
Regina Coeli in B flat major KV 127
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei in F major KV 273
Regina Coeli in C major KV 276
Scande coeli limina in C major, KV 34
Inter natos mulierium in G major KV 72
Benedictus sit Deus in C major KV 117
Sub tuum praesidium in F major KV 198
Misericordias Domini in D minor KV 222
Venite populi in D major KV 260
Alma Dei Creatoris in F major KV 277
God is our Refuge KV 20
Miserere in A minor KV 85
Quaerite primum regnum Dei KV 86
2 deutsches Kirchenlieder KV 343
Veni sance Spiritus in C major KV 47
Te Deum Laudamus in C major KV 141
Ergo interest in G major KV 143
Kommet her, ihr rechen Sunder in B flat major KV 146
Exultate, jubilate in F major KV 165
Dixit Dominus and Magnificat in C major KV 193
Tantum ergo in D major KV 197
Ave verum corpus in D major KV 618
Mass in C Minor KV 427
Kyrie in D minor KV 341
Missa Solemnis in C major KV 337
Coronation Mass in C major KV 317
Missa Brevis in B flat major KV 275
Missa Longa in C major KV 262
Missa Brevis in C major KV 259 (Orgel Solo)
Missa in C major KV 258 (Spaurmesse)
Missa in C major KV 257 (Credo messe)
Missa Brevis in C major KV 220 (Spatzen Messe)
Missa Brevis in D major KV 194
Missa Brevis in F major KV 192
Missa in C major KV 167 (Trinitatis Messe)
Missa Brevis in G major KV 140
Missa Solemnis in C minor KV 139 (Waisenhausmesse)
Missa Brevis in D minor KV 65
Missa in C major KV 66 (Dominicusmesse)
Missa Brevis in G major KV 49
Kyrie in F major KV 33
Vellentina Farcas (soprano)
Annemarie Kremer (soprano)
Marietta Fishcesser (soprano)
Pamela Heuvelmans (soprano)
Anja Bittner (soprano)
Petra Labitzke (soprano)
Barbara Werner (alto)
Gabriele Wunderer (alto)
Daniel Sans (tenor)
Benoit Haller (tenor)
Robert Morvaj (tenor)
Gerhard Nennemann (tenor)
Christof Fischesser (bass)
Manfred Bittner (bass)
Jens Wollenschlager (organ)
Chamber Choir of Europe
Camerata Würzburg
Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim
Süddeutsches Kammerorcheser Pforzheim
Teatro Armonico Stuttgart
Nicol Matt (conductor)
Recorded July 2001, Alte Kirche, Fautenbach
23-26 October, 9-11, 26-28 November 2001, Kloster Bronnbach Wertheim
4-6, 11-13 February 2002, Mannheim
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92113 [15 CDs: 48.16+42.49+63.30+54.50+39.45+61.00+55.00+45.00+55.55+47.10+58.45+54.28+45.27+56.30+66.32]

Mozart worked for the Archbishop of Salzburg until 1780 (when he was 24), so it is not surprising that he produced copious amounts of sacred music. There is no doubt that Mozart expressed deep religious feelings in some of his sacred music, but he came to feel constrained by his working conditions in Salzburg. The second Archbishop that he worked for had strong views on the length of a mass; it must not last more than 45 minutes. As a result the Salzburg masses are all rather compact in nature and offered few opportunities for Mozart to expand and deepen the music. The rare occasions when he was able to break out of this, such as in the Litaniae de venerabili altaris sacramento, which was not written for the Archbishop, gave him welcome musical opportunities. It is only in the two later masses (the Requiem and the Mass in C minor) that we can see him bringing his full talents to bear. It is therefore, a matter of deep regret that both of these two masses are unfinished, so we have no complete mass by the mature Mozart.

Of the 46 items on the disc (20 masses and torsos, 4 litanies, 2 vespers plus miscellaneous movements), only 4 date from 1781 or later (the year of the premiere of Idomeneo). And some 30 items date from the period 1771 to 1781, the years of his late teens and coming maturity. This means that in this 15 disc set, there is not a great deal of mature Mozart. But everything that he wrote is of interest, even the little English motet ĎGod is our refugeí written in 1765 for performance in London.

The set opens with the most familiar piece, the Requiem in D minor. This disc reflects the basic strengths and weaknesses of all the recordings in this set. The common factor in all of them is the choir, the Chamber Choir of Europe, with conductor Nicol Matt. The choir make a good clean bright sound and can be notable for their rhythmic vitality. It is a chamber choir, which is a good thing in these works, but not everyone will like the focused sound and will long for the warmth and luxuriance of a bigger ensemble. Personally, I find this choirís approach to classical music perfectly refreshing. In the Requiem they successfully negotiate some of the trickier passages in Mozartís choral writing, notably the ne absorbeat passage in the Domine Jesu where the choirís tenors succeed where many other ensembles have been found wanting.

For the Requiem they are accompanied by the Süddeutsches Kammerorchester, Pforzheim. This is one of a number of German regional chamber orchestras that accompany the choir in the set. Using such ensembles ensures that we get a good balance between chamber choir and orchestra and that the orchestraís sound quality matches that of the choir. The disadvantage is that none of the ensembles is of the first rank and sometimes the accompaniment lacks the polish of a more well known ensemble.

In the Requiem, the orchestra contribute a lively accompaniment, but details can be untidy. For this work Mozart uses trombones to double the choir and sometimes they cover the inner parts of the choir. For soloists, the set uses a pool of 14 singers none of whom are well known. All musical, their performances are creditable without always being ideal. In the Requiem soprano Pamela Heuvelmans has too much vibrato for this type of music (a common complaint on this set), but tenor Robert Morvaj gives a very attractive account of his tricky opening solo.

The next 3 discs contain Mozartís 4 Litanies and 2 Vespers services. All these works date from the period 1770 to 1780 and Mozart used them as a welcome opportunity to write on a different scale to the short masses for Salzburg. In the Litanies, one can only marvel at Mozartís ability to generate such fascinating music out of a text that is basically just a list. This group of works requires strong soloists. The soprano and tenor soli in particular can be very taxing. Here, taken by singers with decent lyric voices, the showy passage-work rather suffers. This is a shame as the chorus and orchestras (Teatro Armonico Stuttgart, Kurpfälzisches Kammerorchester Mannheim and Süddeutsches Kammerorchester Pforzheim) give a fine, chamber feel to these pieces, really drawing us in to the sensation of listening to a small-ish church performance and not a grand concert. The Vespers services, from 1779 and 1780, have a noticeably more complex texture than the earlier Litanies. The second Vespers contain the well known Laudate Dominum. Here soprano Pamela Heuvelmans turns in a performance significantly better than the others on these three discs. She shares the solos with Annemarie Kremer who also brings an unfortunate vibrato to the table.

The next three discs contain a miscellany of smaller works. Many of these are for completists only, with pieces ranging from 1765 through to 1791. The most well known is the Ave Verum Corpus which receives a distressingly soupy performance, quite out of character with the rest of the choral contributions on these discs. Some pieces, like the two late Kirchenlieder are frankly tedious and the Miserere rather outstays its welcome. But there are some pleasing, small-scale choral motets which receive decent performances; these would be ideal for many church choirs. These discs contain another of those remarkable pieces that seem to stand out from their neighbours and are deservedly well known, the Exsultate Jubilate. If the performance here is not too remarkable, this need not worry us unduly as most people will have a selection of recordings of this work in their library.

The next disc contains the Mass in C Minor, the great mass setting from Mozartís mature period. Associated with his wedding, the piece was written to showcase his wifeís voice, with her amazing range. Even incomplete, this work is on a bigger scale (both physically and emotionally) than any of the earlier masses. From the haunting opening of the Kyrie we are in a different world. In this piece, as other later works, the expressive solo parts have different problems to the virtuoso pieces; even the soprano soloís extensive range is used for more expressive purposes. The soprano soloist contributes a lovely et incarnatus est though in earlier solos both sopranosí upper registers were a little on the steely side. Nicol Matt encourages his forces to contribute highly characterised performances in each movement, but an overall sense of structure seems to be missing from this performance.

The next seven discs survey the remainder of Mozartís masses in roughly reverse chronological order. The first disc containing the masses Mozart wrote in his last year at Salzburg, the last disc finishing with the little Kyrie he wrote in 1766. The first disc opens with the Kyrie in D minor, a torso of an incomplete work. This is a fine, sombre piece lasting over seven minutes and its associated mass would have been one of Mozartís most deeply serious examples; we can only regret its lack. The Missa Solemnis K337 was the last piece that Mozart would write for Salzburg and the Coronation Mass K317 was written in fulfilment of a vow. The coronation refers to a ceremony crowning a statue of the Virgin rather than an Imperial coronation. Here the performers are at their best. The solos suit the singersí voices in a way that has not always been true in earlier discs and the choir and orchestras contribute stylishly crisp performances.

The remaining masses receive equally creditable performances and it is a notable achievement for the choir to have recorded such a wide range of music at such a consistent standard. In the little Organ solo mass, Missa Brevis KV 259, organist Jens Wollenschlager finally gets a chance to shine, having contributed to the texture in a number of masses. Unfortunately, his organ sounds more suitable to discreet ensemble playing than solo work. Some of these earlier masses give the lie to the claim that all Mozartís early masses are short. In fact the Waisenhaus Mass KV 139 and the early Dominicus Mass KV 66 are both substantial works. The Waisenhaus mass has a date which belies its KV number. In fact, there is some doubt as to when this impressive mass was performed; possibly in 1768 or even as late as 1772. If written as early as 1769 (parts of the score are written in Leopoldís hand) it was probably designed to try to impress the Imperial court; which it certainly would have done, with its remarkable sombre and operatic Agnus Dei and Crucifixus, both of which make wonderful use of dark orchestral sonorities. The early Dominican Mass KV 66 is a startling achievement for such a young boy. It was written for the ordination of the son of the Mozart familyís landlord.

This set is an impressive achievement for the Chamber Choir of Europe and Nicol Matt. The discs were recorded in a remarkably short time and I can only marvel at the choirís stamina and ability to learn and digest so much music. My only regret is that the budget did not stretch to some soloists who were more suitable to Mozartís often difficult solo lines.

Of the major works on these discs, no performance is ideal. But at super budget price, this set is ideal for those people wishing to fill in gaps in their collection. And if you have not listened to much of Mozartís sacred music apart from the Requiem, then this is a lovely place to start.

Robert Hugill



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