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Ferdinando PAËR (1771-1839)
Missa piena (1805)
Sibylla Rubens (soprano)
Anke Vondung (alto)
Jörg Schneider (tenor)
Georg Zeppenfield (bass)
Dresdner Kreuzchor
Staatskapelle Dresden/Roderich Krelle
rec. live, Frauenkirche, Dresden, March 2008 
CARUS 83.246 [61:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Ferdinando Paër was born in Parma in 1771. The family name was actually Pär, but the composer altered its spelling when he moved to Paris in 1810. His was a musical family – his father was a trumpeter – and he was taught by court musicians in his home town. Later he moved to Vienna and then in 1802 to Dresden where a couple of years later he was made Court Kapellmeister for life. This didn’t stop him leaving however, because after the rise of Napoleon and specifically his victories at Jena and Auerstedt Paër was on the move again, this time to Paris. He was maître de chapelle having succeeded Paisiello and was later also director of the Italian Theatre where he worked in harness with Rossini.

Because his name is so little known a few biographical words were necessary. The same is true of his music. The Missa piena was written in Dresden in 1805 at a time when his commission stipulated the writing of one new opera a year but not necessarily any liturgical music. He did in fact do so but in its length this Mass didn’t really conform to the expected Dresden norms – which were roughly half an hour in length for the Ordinarium. This Mass actually lasts a full hour. It was subsequently cut but then fell out of use. It’s now almost unknown and this is its first recording.

One of the early critics complained that it wasn’t really church music at all. The notes report the writer, whose review appeared in Leipzig’s Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, as having had a pronounced anti-Italian music bias. So it was probably on stylistic as opposed to length concerns that he objected. Listening to the Mass objectively it’s evident what the problem was, at least for him. It is a quasi-opera. Or to be less crude it has moments of quasi-operatic panache sufficient to unbalance a work, at least from prevailing Dresden or Leipzig standards.

The orchestral part is rich in verdant wind lines, and springy supportive string tissue. The fuga is big, powerful and a bit showy. There’s a curious jauntiness to the Qui tollis that must surely have provoked auditors who found the work shallow. The Cum sancto spiritu is spirited up-tempo whereas the longest single movement, the Credo, is almost symphonically conceived. The Sanctus once more reveals his operatic inspiration, and he reserves a strong theatrical conclusion for the Benedictus.

The soloists vary. Soprano Sibylla Rubens has a powerful voice though her vibrato is rather too wide. It’s not an easy voice to balance and that’s a failure in the Christe where she overpowers the more modest tenor of Jörg Schneider. Rubens’s theatrical declamation is called for in the Gloria which calls for rather florid singing – note the quasi-operatic trills. Mezzo Anke Vondung sings sensitively. Bass Georg Zeppenfield’s voice has a rather attractive, noble profile.

There’s a four-language booklet – Carus is invariably generous in its documentation – and this latest release of theirs will appeal to apostles of the Italo-German muse.

Jonathan Woolf 



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