Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Mass No. 3 in F minor (1868, 1881, rev. 1890-93) [59:44]
Psalm 150 (1892) [8:16]
Juliet Booth (soprano); Jean Rigby (contralto); John Mark Ainsley
(tenor); Gwynne Howell (bass); Corydon Singers, Corydon Orchestra/Matthew
rec. 1, 3, 8 February 1992, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, DDD
Text and English translation included.
HYPERION HELIOS CDH55332 [68:01]
This is a reissue of one of Bruckner’s three mature masses in
critically acclaimed performances. The E minor Mass was re-issued
several years ago (CDH55277 ), but all three plus some of the
motets, the Psalm 150 and the Te Deum came out as a box set
on Hyperion (CDS44071/3). All of the performances on these discs
have received accolades, so that anyone wanting Bruckner’s greatest
choral works would do best to purchase the set rather than the
discs individually. That said, if your main interest is in the
last and arguably greatest of the masses, then the disc under
review should do nicely.
Bruckner completed the Mass in F minor in 1868, but then revised
it several times before the definitive version of 1881. As with
the symphonies, he further revised it with the help of his pupil
Joseph Schalk between 1890 and 1893. I do not know which version
is used here, as the booklet notes do not say and I do not have
access to a score. For the other recording I have of the mass,
Franz Welser-Möst’s with the London Philharmonic on EMI, the
edition used is the one by Leopold Nowak of 1962. This includes
some changes in orchestration Bruckner made between 1890 and
1893. As with most of Bruckner, the issue of editions is problematic
and one is not always sure which is being used unless it is
clearly stated in the CD booklet. This matters little, as far
as I am concerned, when the performances are as winning as those
by Best and Welser-Möst. The main differences between the two
are the scale of the performance and the recording location.
Best’s is a smaller-scaled account than Welser-Möst’s as far
as size of the chorus, but the advantages are a greater clarity
and better balance between the chorus and the orchestra. Part
of this is due to the recording itself. The Hyperion was made
in St Jude-on-the-Hill, but EMI recorded their version in All
Saints Church, Tooting. It is more distant and sounds more blended,
giving it a different perspective from Best’s closer one.
Best’s account of the great mass is one of real warmth and jubilation.
The sheer exhilaration of the Gloria and Credo are hard to beat
in this recording. I loved the incisive timpani underpinning
the main theme of the Credo and again in the Agnus Dei starting
at 5:40, Track 14. That is barely noticeable with Welser-Möst.
On the other hand, the presence of an organ in the latter is
a plus; I did not notice any in Best’s. The soloists in this
performance are excellent, as they are on the EMI. Best captures
the dynamic range from the softest passages to the big climaxes
very well. Especially magical is the hushed singing of the chorus,
for example, at 5:22, Track 13 in the Benedictus and 7:50, Track
14 in the Dona nobis pacem of the Agnus Dei. In both instances
the chorus is followed by lovely oboe playing, but the woodwinds
are wonderful throughout. Best’s pacing of the work is also
spot-on, leaving nothing to be desired. I came away from the
Hyperion with a new appreciation for this mass and for me it
now has the same exalted stature as the composer’s great symphonies.
The disc mate is the joyous Psalm 150. It, too, receives a stunning
and uplifting reading. It may be short, but it’s certainly powerful.
Welser-Möst accompanies his mass with the equally jubilant Te
Deum. It is more than twice the length of Psalm 150, but given
the choice, I would take Best’s Mass and Psalm by a narrow margin.
Both recordings, however, are indispensable for Brucknerians.
As is usual with Hyperion, the production values on this budget
release are not short-changed. The booklet contains a detailed
discussion by Wadham Sutton of the works at hand and of Bruckner’s
choral output in general. It is given in English, French and
German; a pity that there is nothing about the performers. Never
mind. This release has sufficient merit to earn it a strong