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.
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.
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.