The Immortal Bach Ensemble with Morten Schuldt-Jensen at the helm have already recorded Schubert’s sixth and last Mass, D950, generally recognised as his masterpiece in this genre. Tony Haywood gave a fairly warm welcome to that recording (8.570381 – see review
) and I’m happy to give a similar welcome to the current offering. Those new to Schubert’s output in this form should begin with the earlier CD. All the music on the new CD is attractive, but it is rather small beer by comparison with D950.
The longest work here, the so-called Deutsche Messe
, D872, could have been the work of any averagely competent choirmaster. Its name is something of a misnomer: it isn’t a short Lutheran or ‘German’ Mass such as those which Bach composed. Rather it is a set of fairly simple hymns for congregational singing, with wind and organ accompaniment, at key points in the celebration of Mass: Introit
. It doesn’t require the vocal equivalent of rocket science, so the competent performance which it receives here will do very well. As on the earlier recording which TH reviewed, tempi are fairly brisk, though never to the point of insensitivity and the whole effect is of a small congregation giving of its best.
I did wonder if the tempo for the Offertory (marked Sehr langsam
, very slow) was not a shade too fast until I looked at the timing of Wolfgang Sawallisch’s EMI recording, generally regarded as a benchmark for this music, and found that he was slightly faster still. In the Sanctus
, I thought Schuldt-Jensen’s tempo just right; here, too, Sawallisch is marginally faster, at least on paper. It was time to compare the two performances in the flesh, as it were.
Sawallisch’s recording of the Deutsche Messe
is no longer available, except in a multi-CD compilation. His EMI recording of the last three Masses, nos.4-6, is available on a budget-price Gemini 2-CD set (3815192, around £8.50) but his version of the Deutsche Messe
is available only in Schubert’s Complete Sacred Works
(5860112, 7 CDs for around £20). That is an economical proposition, but those requiring only the Deutsche Messe
, with the Mass No.2 in G and other sacred music, on a single disc, 7474072, will find it available for download at passionato.com
, in good mp3 and even better lossless sound.
Even Sawallsich can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and he doesn’t quite persuade me that D782 is a masterpiece, but he does characterise each section more clearly than Schuldt-Jensen and he gets more variety into the singing of the Bavarian Radio Chorus. Homophonic music is always going to lack variety, but the EMI forces do their best. With a mid-1980s recording that still sounds well, I rate his account slightly ahead of the new Naxos. Yes, he does ignore that sehr langsam
marking in the Offertory
, but he convinces me more than the new recording in both cases.
The single-disc Sawallisch also offers the Mass No.2, D872. He has the advantage in terms of soloists – Lucia Popp, Adolf Dallapozza and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, no less – and it must be admitted that they out-sing Schuldt-Jensen’s soloists. Here again, while the Naxos performance convinces that this is an attractive work in the manner of Mozart’s short Mass settings, though no masterpiece, Sawallisch seems to bring out qualities not apparent on the newer recording.
The EMI download is more expensive than the Naxos CD, especially if you go for the lossless flac version at £9.99 – you may feel tempted to go for the 7-CD set for just twice that price. Supplement the download with the Gemini set, however, and you have some fine performances of five of Schubert’s Masses and some attractive incidental pieces for slightly less than the box set. Whatever you decide, don’t be tempted to download the Gemini set from passionato.com at £15.99 (mp3) or £19.99 (flac) when the 2-CD set can be had for under £9.
The shorter works on the Sawallisch download, too, are well worth hearing – a lively setting of a German translation of Salve Regina
and Psalms 23 and 92, together with a second version of the German Hymn to the Holy Spirit
from the Deutsche Messe
I haven’t been able to listen to Sawallisch’s account of the third work on the new Naxos CD, Mass No.4, D452, included with Nos. 5 and 6 on the Gemini set. Schuldt-Jensen offers an attractive performance of this, too, though his soprano, Claudia Reinhard, sounds less happy in places here than she does in Mass No.2 – a small blemish in a more than satisfactory version of the most attractive of the three works on the Naxos disc.
The Naxos recording is good, but the EMI holds up well. The notes in the Naxos booklet are, as usual from Keith Anderson, informative and readable, though I would have preferred less of Schubert’s biography and more about the music.
As has become the norm for Naxos recently, one has to go online to obtain the texts for the new recording. The Latin settings present no problem – though Schubert makes some small cuts in the traditional text, for no apparent reason – but one really does need the German hymns from the Deutsche Messe
There are no texts at all with the passionato
download – something which download providers urgently need to address. Naxos’s classicsonline.com offers the booklet with a purchase of any recent Naxos recording and of some of the other labels which they host, and Chandos (theclassicalshop.com) and Hyperion, whose own download site has recently become active, offer pdf versions of most of their booklets to all and sundry.
If I were looking for recordings of Schubert’s Masses from scratch, then, would I go for the two Naxos recordings, thereby obtaining more than satisfactory performances and recordings of two minor masterpieces and some other attractive music, or would I start with the Sawallisch 2-CD Gemini set, possibly adding the passionato
download now or later? I have to say that, tempting as the two Naxos CDs are, I’d go for the Sawallisch. I have no serious criticism of the Naxos, but the older performances still have the edge. In fact, I’m about to place an order for the Gemini set to replace some rather unsatisfactory versions of Masses Nos. 4-6 which I once bought in a sale.