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
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.