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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Mass in E flat, D. 950 (1828) [46:13]
Stabat Mater in G minor, D. 175 (1815) [5:46]
Immortal Bach Ensemble
Leipziger Kammerorchester/Morten Schuldt-Jensen
rec. Grosser Saal, Gewandhaus, Leipzig, 22-24 August 2006
NAXOS 8.570381 [51:59]
Experience Classicsonline

This glorious choral work comes from that miraculous final year of Schubert’s life when so many canonic pieces were written. The last of his six completed Masses, it lay unperformed until a year after the composer’s death, and many writers see in it a realization from the composer of his impending end – his own Requiem, in other words. Like the Mozart Requiem, this view could be construed as romantic piffle, except that it does make a lot of sense, and the Mass inhabits the same emotional and dramatic terrain as his last quartets, sonatas and songs.
It doesn’t seem to be performed all that much in concert, but has done fairly well on disc, especially recently, when this new Naxos was joined by a higher profile competitor in the shape of Hickox and his starry Chandos forces. I haven’t sampled that one, but there’s enough to give a warm welcome to the disc under review. My benchmark for some years has been the historically informed version under Bruno Weil on Sony, and it’s fairly obvious that conductor Morten Schuldt-Jensen has learnt a thing or two from that trend. His forces are small and disciplined, with fairly swift tempos, though not to Weil’s degree. The orchestra plays cleanly and crisply and there’s a general no-nonsense air about the performance. The fact that it relaxes in places and is allowed to breathe will be welcomed by many, but there is a pay-off in lack of dramatic tension at some key points. One of the main places is the start of the second section of the Gloria, the ‘Domine Deus’, where the trombones of Weil’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are simply more imposing and effective, as are his keener-edged choral forces. Elsewhere, period percussion and wind cut through the texture, underpinning the ominous overtones of the composer’s own ‘Der Doppelganger’ at the start of the Agnus Dei. That said, Schuldt-Jensen is alive to the Brucknerian anticipations, especially the many searching harmonic progressions that litter the score, and his interestingly named Immortal Bach Ensemble are very professional and full-toned. The few solo contributions seem to be from within the choir’s ranks - they are named within the booklet, not on the outer sleeve - and he uses women rather than the all-male soloists on Weil’s version, another traditional touch that some may prefer.
The tiny Stabat Mater that fills out the disc comes from 1815, when the composer was 18. Like so much early Schubert, it’s worth hearing without setting the world on fire. A more substantial work could have been found with these timings, but Weil’s Sony disc has nothing at all, so perhaps we shouldn’t complain. Recording is warm and reasonably well detailed, rather like the performance. You may want to search elsewhere for greater interpretative insight (Sawallisch, Abbado) or keener dramatic impact (Weil), but there’s no doubt this Naxos issue represent decent all-round value.
Tony Haywood


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