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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Mass in E flat major D.950 [51:14]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Vesperae solennes de Confessore K339 [25:23]
Genia Kühmeier (soprano); Christa Mayer (alto); Timothy Robinson, Oliver Ringelhaln (tenors); Matthew Rose (bass)
Staatsopernchor Dresden; Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. live, Frauenkirche Dresden, 26 April 2008
Latin text and German, English and French translations included
CARUS 83.249 [76:45] 
Experience Classicsonline

For some reason the Schubert Mass in E flat has had a reputation in some quarters as being one of the composer’s less successful works, and in this demonstrating his lack of belief in the text that he was setting. Admittedly the latter view is to some extent supported by the omission of some of the usual parts of the text of the Mass, in particular of the words “et in unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam”, which suggest a less than wholehearted adherence to the Catholic Church. Nonetheless it is a work of such drama, variety and sheer invention that it is hard to imagine that the composer wrote it out of a mere sense of duty, still less simply for financial gain. In a poor performance I admit that parts of it can seem endless, especially the very extended fugues, but in a performance like this it emerges as one of Schubert’s greatest achievements. Somehow all those parts which can sound problematic in many performances fit together as a whole so as to add up to a remarkably powerful yet supremely lyrical work. It is mainly a matter of immense care over tempi, articulation and balance. Nothing here ever sounds exaggerated or unnatural but everything is clearly in its place and is clearly related to what has gone before, and, despite what has been written about the work, to the sense and import of the words.

In a live performance things do occasionally go wrong. They do so here, and I am sure in particular that the two tenors would appreciate the opportunity to rerecord their duet at “Et incarnatus”. The church is very large and resonant and although the engineers have overall done a good job there are times when the strings are only remotely audible. The use of narrow bore trombones, to which Sir Charles refers in the fascinating interview in the booklet, is however a real delight. They give the necessary sense of gravity to their lines without sounding too heavy or coarse. Overall this is a performance of the Mass well worth hearing, especially for anyone previously lukewarm about it. 

The Mozart is another work which is not always accepted as an out and out masterpiece, at least until it reaches the astonishingly beautiful “Laudate Dominum” for soprano. Unfortunately despite the very lovely performance of this aria and the great care obviously taken over the rest of the work it remains a piece to which I do not greatly warm. It too is nonetheless worth hearing in this performance which does show it to its best advantage. I understand that this was Sir Charles’ first concert with the Staatskapelle Dresden, but on the evidence of this disc the two appear to have been made for each other. With the usual excellent packaging we have come to expect from Carus this is an issue which should not be missed. 

John Sheppard


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