When, in 1769, the sixty year old Franz Xaver
Richter was appointed Kapellmeister of the cathedral in Strasbourg,
he brought with him a wealth of experience and a considerable
reputation. Born in Moravia, Richter was a student at the Jesuit
seminary at Ungarisch Hradisch, before spending some years in
Vienna - and making at least a brief trip to Italy. By 1736 he
was working as a bass in the Stuttgart Hofkapelle and by the following
year he was in Ettal as director of music at the Benedictine Ritterakademie.
1740 saw his appointment as vice-Kapellmeister (and later Kapellmeister)
to Prince-Abbot Anselm von Reichlin-Meldegg in Kempten. In 1746
he moved to Mannheim, in the service of the Elector Palatine Carl
Theodor. Continuing to work as a singer - and perhaps as a violinist
too - Richter the composer made a major contribution to the evolution
of the Mannheim school which so impressed and influenced Mozart.
During the 1750s he travelled in the Low Countries, France and
England. In the 1760s he wrote his treatise Harmonische Belehrungen.
During his Mannheim years, Richter was best known as a composer
of string quartets. Though he had already written some church
music, it was the move to Strasbourg that prompted his full emergence
as a composer of sacred music.
Though he may have been sixty when he took up his post in Strasbourg, Richter was evidently not weary or short of energy. In the next twenty years he wrote some forty settings of the mass (in 1788 Mozart praised one of them as “charmingly written”), along with many motets, psalms, a Requiem, a Te Deum and a Tenebrae cycle previously recorded on Cypres (CYP1624). Much of it has a grandeur befitting the magnificence of the Cathedral, one of the masterpieces of high gothic. In his youth Richter made some arrangements from sacred works by Caldara - whom Richter might well have met during his time in Vienna - and there is something of that influence discernable in these late sacred works, along with obvious affinities with Haydn.
The Messa Pastorale was written around 1680. It employs some pretty large forces and the trumpets and percussion are not stinted – it must have sounded splendid in the large spaces of the Cathedral; a bit more of a sense of space wouldn’t have gone amiss in the present recording. The Kyrie has the air of a dignified proclamation, a summoning of the faithful as much as an act of prayer, though the fugal conclusion has a striking lightness, while the Gloria is characterised by a kind of solemn radiance. It is lit up by some fine orchestral writing, not least in the ‘Domine Deus’, where bass Bogdan Makal impresses. Some of the loveliest passages come in the Credo – in which ‘public’ statements at the beginning and end, for full choir and orchestra, of the initial ‘Credo in unum Deum’ and the closing ‘Et resurrexit’ and ‘Et vitam venturi’ frame two more intimate meditations on the ‘Et incarnates est’ and the ‘Crucifixus’. In these two central sections of the Credo Richter invites from his hearers an empathetically imaginative sympathy with both the birth and the death of Christ, skilfully deploying flutes (to evoke a Nativity scene) and the quasi-angelic high voices. The latter are very well sung by Marzena Lubaszka and Piotr Lykowski. In the Sanctus a melodic and expressive setting of the ‘Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini’ is gracefully performed by tenor Maciej Gocman. The closing ‘Agnus Dei’ and ‘Dona nobis pacem’ are set with pleasing lightness and crispness, qualities to which Andrzej Kosendiak and his forces respond admirably.
The Magnificat is also a work of Richter’s Strasbourg years, a work in which he makes pleasingly varied use of his resources, from forceful tuttis for choir and orchestra to some unaccompanied writing for the soprano, from a section for the quartet of soloists to some prominent and very effective writing for the horns. This is a fine piece, well worth getting to know, a piece which, like the Messa Pastorale evidences all that Richter had learned and also makes clear that his imagination had by no means ossified.
In between these two sacred works this disc places a Sinfonia written during Richter’s years at Mannheim. As so often in Richter’s orchestral writing one can hear anticipations of the fully-fledged classical manner. The three movements (Allegro assai, Andantino arioso and Presto) are played idiomatically by the Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, from the assertive and opening, through the initially halting tenderness and ensuing grace of the central movement to the assurance and self-confidence of the final Presto.
Soloists, choir and orchestra all acquit themselves with real credit. They, under the direction of Andrzej Kosendiak, have given us a fine first recording of a Christmas Mass that well deserves to be heard, to be brought to life rather than merely preserved in the Archbishop’s Library in Strasbourg.
see also review by Johan