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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756Ė1791)
Coronation Mass, K317 (1779) [24.46]
Missa Solemnis, K337 (1780) [21.32]
Epistle Sonata no. 16, K329 [3.52]
Epistle Sonata no. 17, K336 [3.52]
Patrizia Kwella (soprano)
Ulla Groenewold (contralto)
Christoph Pregardien (tenor)
Franz-Josef Selig (bass)
Cologne Chamber Choir
Collegium Cartusianum/Peter Neumann
Recorded 1989, originally issued by EMI
VIRGIN CLASSICS 00946 391803 2 5 [53.17]

One of the problems with Mozartís mature output is the paucity of mass settings. He left the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg just as his style had reached maturity. But the Archbishop had firm views on the length of services, so that neither of Mozartís two final Salzburg masses - the Coronation Mass, K317, and the Missa Solemnis K337 - is expansive. Following these settings, Mozart did not write a complete mass setting again. Of his two mass settings written after this period, he left the Mass in C minor, K427 as a magnificent torso and he died before he could complete the Requiem Mass.

Both the Coronation Mass, K317, and the Missa Solemnis, K337, have much to commend them, even if they cannot offer the sort of highly developed writing which we can find in the Requiem and the Mass in C minor.

The Coronation Mass, K317, was written in 1779 and is short but grandiose. Its nickname comes from the story that it was written for the coronation of a statue of the Virgin, though this story is nowadays viewed with some scepticism. Still, the mass is written for strings - without violas and cellos - with oboes, horns, trumpets, trombones and timpani. Mozart often uses the soloists as a quartet to contrast with the chorus. The subsequent history of the mass seems to have justified its nickname: it was used for the coronation of Emperor Leopold II in 1791 and for that of Franz II two years later.

The mass is notable for the lovely soprano solo in the Agnus Dei, which may be seen as foreshadowing the Countessís aria, Dove Sono, in The Marriage of Figaro.

The Missa Solemnis, K337, was written in March 1780 after the Archbishop had given new requirements for the shortness of the mass settings. The result is on a similar scale to the Coronation Mass, but with all the movements being just slightly shorter. Again there are echoes of The Marriage of Figaro. In the Agnus Dei we find a foretaste of the Countessís aria, Porgi Amor.

The pairing on disc of this mass with the Missa Solemnis K337 is quite logical as they both date from Mozartís final year in Salzburg. Surprisingly, this pairing does not seem to happen very often, which makes the re-issue of this disc from Peter Neumann doubly welcome. Neumann conducts a period instrument group with a fine quartet of soloists.

The type of solo writing that Mozart uses means that it is only really the soprano soloist, Patrizia Kwella, who gets a chance to shine. The other three are entirely admirable, with Christoph Prťgardien displaying an admirably clear, focused voice. All blend very well in the solo ensembles. But it is Kwella who dazzles with her beautifully shaped and well judged accounts of the sopranoís big moment in each of the Masses.

The chorus provide fine, justly-shaped singing though Mozartís choral writing in these masses does not really challenge. Still, he does have one or two surprises up his sleeve including a Benedictus in the form of a choral fugue in K337. The Benedictus of K317 is also something of a surprise as the Benedictus returns after the choral Hosanna. Neumann is quite fierce here, you feel that the Hosanna is interrupting the Benedictus.

The Cologne Collegium Cartusianum play well for Neumann. They turn in a nicely sprung and well proportioned performance. It may be that other groups could play this music with a slightly greater degree of finesse and sophistication. However the Cologne group are thoroughly drilled and their performance is more than creditable.

When this disc was new, Stanley Sadie in The Gramophone was worried about the extremes of some of Neumannís speeds. I must confess that this did not bother me and I found Neumannís accounts of the masses pretty much spot-on.

This account of the masses adds the relevant Epistle sonata from Mozartís complete set. Each has an Epistle sonata played in the correct liturgical place, between the Gloria and the Credo. This is a lovely idea. It helps to break up the masses; after all they were not designed to be heard in one lump. And the Epistle sonatas were not written to be listened to en masse, the way most record companies record them.

The CD liner notes are quite sketchy and the texts of the masses are not included.

If you already have accounts of these masses, then there is no need to rush out and buy this disc. But if you only have the Coronation Mass, and donít have K337 then do buy this one. The Coronation Mass is worth having if only for Patrizia Kwellaís solos and the K337 is an admirable performance of a much neglected rarity.

Robert Hugill

 

 


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