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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Mass in C (1807) [42'42]; Meeresstille und Glückliche Fahrt, Op. 112 (1807) [6'38].
Audrey Michael (soprano); Lila Bizimeche-Eisinger (mezzo); Markus Schaeffer (tenor); Michel Brodard (bass)
Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra/Michel Corboz.
Rec. Egreria de Jesus, Lisbon, July 1988. DDD
Texts included.
WARNER APEX 2564 62081-2 [49'34]


A useful coupling from the repertoire angle here, matching Beethoven's 'other' Mass with the brief cantata, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. Yet there are drawbacks. Even taking into account the price, surely less than fifty minutes' playing time is stingy?

Nice to hear the Meerestille, though. I remember a performance conducted by Abbado once - this sort of Beethoven suits Abbado well - but that was the one and only time I have heard this work live. Its brevity may work against it, who knows? But it is an effective little seven-minute cantata. Abbado's recording is on DG 419 779-2, coupled with the 'Pastoral' Symphony and an excellent Choral Fantasy featuring Maurizio Pollini as soloist.

Of course a calm sea was no advantage in the days of sailing ships, rather imposing stasis on ocean-going vessels. Corboz sets up a real feeling of calm, but with an undercurrent that implies awareness of the imminent activity. Performance-wise, all is acceptable. There is evident care here perhaps too much as the sense of jubilation is lost.

In the right hands the Mass in C can appear as a major work. Alas, not here. There are facets of this performance to admire, though. The soprano soloist, Audrey Michael, is nice and pure of voice. The remaining three are rather more variable, especially the anemic tenor Markus Schaeffer. The soloists are rather close-miked.

The cathedral-ish acoustic works well enough in this piece but the whole thing needs an extra shot or two of voltage, not to mention spiritual radiance; the hushed beginning of the Credo, for example. The fugue of the Benedictus is rather under-powered, too, and the 'Pleni sunt caeli' of the Sanctus tends toward the stodgy.

Searching for the positive to report, I can at least tell you that the fugue subject of the Credo (sopranos and violins) is well articulated. But when the end of the work comes, there is more than an element of the 'so what' about it. And that is not what this piece is about.

If you know these works, you won't need these recordings. And if you do not know them, there are better ways of making their acquaintance. Try Matthew Best and the Corydon Singers and Orchestra on Hyperion CDA66830 for the Mass.

Colin Clarke

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