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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Salzburg Sacred Music
Vesperae solennes de confessore in C major, KV 339 (1780) [24.55]
Missa solemnis in C major, KV 337 (1780) [31.54]
(includes the Church or Epistle Sonata No. 17 for organ, KV 336 [03.40])
Regina coeli in C major, KV 276 (circa 1779) [05.53]
Cornelia Samuelis, soprano
Ursula Eittinger, alto
Benoît Haller, tenor
Markus Flaig, bass
Christoph Anselm Noll, organ
Kölner Kammerchor
Collegium Cartusianum/Peter Neumann
Recorded at the Köhn, Trinitatiskirche 12-16 November 2004   DDD 



For this release MDG have chosen the Collegium Cartusianum, which was formed in 1988 as the successor to the Cologne Baroque Orchestra. All twenty-three players perform on original instruments or period copies. The chorus are the Kölner Kammerchor (Cologne Chamber Choir), formed by fellow-countryman Peter Neumann in 1970. For this recording a medium-sized complement of twenty-seven is utilised.

Mozart’s years in Salzburg produced some of his most memorable compositions. When compared to the productivity of the preceding years, his musical output for 1780 seems strangely meagre. The major works written that year include only one Symphony, the Vesperae solennes de confessore and the Missa solemnis. Mozart was undoubtedly concentrating his musical energies on the composition of the opera Idomeneo, K. 366. With Idomeneo Mozart was being given the opportunity to work in his favourite genre, the opera, on this occasion commissioned for use by the Munich Court. The writing of the score also represented a real opportunity to escape Salzburg and Count Hieronymus Colloredo, Prince Archbishop of Salzburg, his much despised employer.

It is the theme of this MDG Gold release that the three sacred scores contained on this release may have been composed around 1780 for the same occasion, possibly the high feast day called fetis palliis. On this feast day in Salzburg the Prince Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo would celebrate mass while wearing the high status garment, the palliium, which was a white wool stole that had been bestowed on him by the Pope.      

The Vesperae solennes de confessore although not as well known as the Great C minor Mass, K.427 and the D minor Requiem, K.626 is one of Mozart’s most important sacred compositions. It is a six movement setting of Latin texts of the five psalms Nos 110, 111, 112, 113 and 117 and the Hymn of the Virgin Mary from the St. Luke Gospel. The opening movement: the imposing Dixit Dominuus and the impressive Confitebor tibi Domine under the practised direction of Peter Neumann are treated robustly with an appropriate ceremonial character. A lighter touch is given to the Beatus vir, however by contrast the inspiring Laudate pueri is given an uplifting interpretation. One fully understands the reasons for the justified popularity of the magnificent Laudate Dominum, which with its unsurpassed eloquence is often performed as a stand-alone work. The Laudate Dominum is impressively sung here by German soprano Cornelia Samuelis with the utmost reverence and sincerity, avoiding any temptation toward unnecessary ostentation. The final movement Magnificat is grandiose, here performed with vitality and considerable splendour.      

Of the alternative versions of the Vesperae solennes I admire the accounts, using original instruments, from Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music with the Winchester Cathedral Choir and Emma Kirkby (soprano) on L’Oiseau Lyre 436 585-2OH and from Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century with the Netherlands Chamber Choir and Marinella Pennicchi (soprano) on Philips 434 799-2. On modern instruments the version from Sir Colin Davis with the LSO and Chorus with Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) on Philips 412 873-2 has many admirers.   

With composition of the Missa solemnis Mozart followed the strict rule of Count Hieronymus Colloredo to the letter as the score is as brief as possible. Everything however was not as it seemed, as the critic Alfred Einstein explained, “Mozart, by writing the first three movements in forms that would please the Archbishop, wished to lull him into a false sense of security ... For the Benedictus is the most striking and revolutionary movement in all of Mozart’s Masses ... an extended piece in the harsh key of A minor, in the strictest contrapuntal style ... in a certain sense a very ‘churchly’ piece indeed, and yet a blasphemous one ... It is quite in line with the rebellious character of Mozart in 1780 that he combined the art of annoying Colloredo with the art of pursuing his own ideals, for this Mass, too, is full of intimate and surprising strokes, such as the symbolism at the Deum de Deo in the Credo, and the soft close of the Dona, which is anything but festive.”

The seven movement Missa solemnis provides a continuous flow of charming and elegant musical ideas. Only in the Benedictus does Mozart compose in the ‘learned’ fugal style, which is an untypical form for this movement among Mass settings of the classical era. The thoughtful and understated direction of Peter Neumann achieves a sparkling and immensely satisfying performance. Among the quartet of soloists the soprano role of Cornelia Samuelis is memorable, particularly in the beautiful Agnus Dei which Mozart set as an attractive florid solo with organ obbligato. The chorus enter at the end of the soprano solo with very expressive concluding bars. The Dona Nobis Pacem, as typical in Classical masses, is set as a nimble allegro. However, in the Benedictus Mozart departs from traditional practice, in this instance assigning the final four measures of the Mass to the soloists rather than the choir.

The Missa solemnis includes a performance of the Church or Epistle Sonata for organ, KV 336, a device designed to bridge the gap between the Gloria and the Credo movements. The Epistle Sonata is performed here by organist Christoph Anselm Noll together with some light orchestral accompaniment to delightful effect.

A version of the Missa solemnis from my collection that I would not wish to be without is from Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir on Teldec 4509 90494-2.

The autograph score to the single movement Regina coeli is lost and the actual date of composition can only be estimated at around 1779. It is a Marian antiphon, a type of liturgical chant common in the Gregorian repertory, written specifically to honour the Virgin Mary. It was sung at the end of Compline, the final Office of the liturgical day, since the thirteenth century. There are four Marian antiphons, one for each season of the year. The Regina Coeli, Latin for ‘Rejoice Queen of Heaven’, is sung from Easter Sunday through to the Friday after Pentecost. The Regina coeli is the last of three settings Mozart made of this antiphon in praise of the Virgin.

The four soloists and the Kölner Kammerchor provide outstanding interpretations that capture every nuance without violating the reverential essence of the scores. The expert direction of Peter Neumann ensures that there is no overemphasis or any of that preciousness that has corrupted many performances of sacred music.

Much care has been taken by the MDG engineers to replicate certain elements of performance practise that could have been used in the Salzburg Cathedral of Mozart’s day when these scores may have been performed. We are not informed why Salzburg Cathedral was not used for this recording, in which incidentally Mozart was baptised. For the recording the various groups of performers were strategically positioned three-dimensionally in the Trinity Church.

The only drawbacks with this release were with the booklet notes which were fairly difficult to follow and disappointingly the Latin texts have no English, only German translations. Furthermore, the playing time of the CD at fifty-seven minutes seems rather poor value these days. I played this SACD on my normal CD player and I can report a most acceptable sound quality in what must have been a challenging location.

These impeccable performances have a strong sense of artistry and sensitive musicianship. This is one of the finest releases of sacred choral music that I have heard for some time. A most impressive recording from MDG Gold that is highly recommended.

Michael Cookson




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