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Frantisek Xaver BRIXI (1732–1771)
Missa di Gloria in D major [45.47]
Organ Concerto No 1 in D major [14.45]
Friederike Wagner (soprano); Reiner Schneider-Waterberg (alto); Bernhard Hirtreiter (tenor); Michael Mantaj (bass); Christoph Hammer (organ); Concerto Vocale München; Monteverdi-Orchester München/Wolfgang Kelber
rec. 1993, Klosterkirche Ensdorf. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Frantisek Xaver Brixi came from a well known family of Czech musicians, including a number of distinguished organists and composers. Frantisek’s father was Simon Brixi (1693-1735), and his cousin married into the Benda family thus leading to another Czech musical dynasty.
Frantisek studied philosophy in Prague and was organist at a number of churches and monasteries there. By the 1750s he had a substantial list of sacred compositions to his credit. He was appointed musical director of St. Vitus’s Cathedral in 1759 and remained in post until his death. His compositional style owed something to the Neapolitan school but also mixed in influences from the Viennese Court composers such as Caldara. In his life-time his compositions were popular; though mainly sacred his extensive output includes two symphonies, concertos for harpsichord and for organ.
The Missa di Gloria is a youthful work; the earliest known copy is dated 1759. It is one of a group of masses from his early years which set just the Kyrie and Gloria but do so on an extended scale - the Missa di Gloria lasts some 45 minutes. The work is laid out for soloists, four-part choir, strings, two baroque trumpets and organ continuo. It seems to have been one of his most popular pieces and copies can be found in many music libraries.
The Kyrie, set in three parts, comprises a homophonic Kyrie section, a Christe set for soprano and alto duet and then a final Kyrie set as an extended fugue. The Gloria is in ten movements, the joyful opening choral sections giving way to more thoughtful solo and ensemble passages with sombre choral passages for the Qui tollis and Miserere.
Despite his extensive output and influence few of Brixi’s works seem to have found their way into the catalogue so it is good to have this charming mass available in an attractive performance. In style it hovers between the world of early Mozart masses and the earlier baroque period. The orchestration - for strings and high trumpets - very much lives in the old world whereas the lively bass lines and choral writing remind me of early Mozart.
The soloists, choir and orchestra acquit themselves admirably; whilst not strictly virtuoso, Brixi’s vocal writing requires a degree of control which the soloists find well within their capabilities.
The mass is accompanied by the first of Brixi’s organ concertos. Again we have a fascinating confluence of late baroque and early classical. To me, the organ concerto form is redolent of Handel so that Brixi seems to be mixing baroque forms with classical construction. The organ part is written for an instrument without a pedal board and is capable of being played on a harpsichord. For most of the time, the organist’s left hand simply plays the basso continuo with the right hand executing the virtuoso passages. Organist Christoph Hammer is a stylish player, suitably accompanied by The Monteverdi-Orchester München directed by Wolfgang Kelber.
Kelber’s tempi are always well judged and his performers turn in neat performances in both works. The orchestra are a period instrument band founded by Wolfgang Kelber in 1982.
These pieces are no forgotten masterpieces, but they would seem to be the only Brixi masses and organ concertos available at the moment. As such they give us a fascinating glimpse into the influential world of mid-18th century Czech music.
Robert Hugill


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