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 Best
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 Brucknerís 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 Brucknerís 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-MŲstís 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-MŲst. The main differences between the two are the scale of the performance and the recording location. Bestís is a smaller-scaled account than Welser-MŲstís 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 Bestís closer one.
Bestís 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-MŲst. On the other hand, the presence of an organ in the latter is a plus; I did not notice any in Bestís. 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. Bestís 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 composerís great symphonies.
The disc mate is the joyous Psalm 150. It, too, receives a stunning and uplifting reading. It may be short, but itís certainly powerful. Welser-MŲst 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 Bestís 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 Brucknerís 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 testimonial.
Bestís Bruckner earns a strong endorsement.