Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Missa Solemnis in C major, K337 (including Epistle Sonata in C major, K336) [23.03]
Regina caeli, K108 [14.57]
Vesperae solennes de Dominica, K321 [27.04]
Lynda Russell (soprano); Lina Markeby (mezzo); James Oxley (tenor); David Wilson-Johnson (baritone); St Paulís Cathedral Choir; Simon Johnson (organ); St Paulís Mozart Orchestra/Andrew Carwood
rec. St Gilesí Cripplegate, London, 4-12 July 2011
HYPERION CDA 67921 [69.19]
 
For this recording the choir have left the resonant spaces of their echoing home territory and moved down the road to the smaller acoustic of St Giles. In fact one would have expected the original performances in Salzburg to have been designed by Mozart for a larger space. This recording enables one to appreciate the detail of the scores better without the wash of echo. In fact the engineers have set the microphones back slightly from the performers. The resulting reverberation enables one to have the best of both worlds. Under the circumstances it is perhaps odd that the cover illustration emphasises the connection with St Paulís, with a 2009 illustration of the Cathedral by Nicole Walker which is not among the most prepossessing of Hyperionís usually excellent cover designs.
 
The performances are thoroughly versed in eighteenth century period practice, although it appears that modern instruments are used. The soloists make a well-balanced team in the Missa Solemnis. The choir uses the boysí voices that Mozart would clearly have expected in this music. The organ is set a little far back in the Epistle Sonata which is inserted between the Gloria and Credo of the mass. The booklet note by the conductor makes a good case for its inclusion at this juncture but the intricate passage-work in the solo part - although delicately played - is sometimes half-covered by the discreet string accompaniment.
 
These works are well-known and need no introduction beyond an observation that the Missa Solemnis, despite its title, is a small-scale piece designed for liturgical performance in Salzburg. Those expecting a work on the scale of early nineteenth century settings like those by Beethoven or Cherubini will be disappointed. The only concession to a more public manner comes in the Agnus Dei where Mozart gives us a positive coloratura display aria, which Lynda Russell dispatches neatly if without much bravura and a not altogether convincing trill. She is in better voice in her solo arias in the Regina caeli where her trills are cleaner and more crisp. Although there are more luxurious voices to be heard in these pieces in the catalogue, her account fits well into the context of these essentially small-scale performances.
 
The Vesperae solennes de Dominica constitute a more substantial work than the Missa Solemnis, setting five Psalms and concluding with a Magnificat which clocks in at a brisk 4.58. The soloists again make a well-balanced team, although the lionís share of the work once more goes to Lynda Russell. This includes a poised rendition of the Laudate Dominum - not the well-known setting which comes from the Vesperae solennes de confessore. Again one might perhaps prefer a more well-upholstered voice, but the performance fits well into the context and the organ obbligato is well in the picture.
 
Those wanting either a performance using period instruments or a more romantic view of Mozart will look elsewhere, but these genial performances are perfectly in scale and will be welcome to many.
 
Paul Corfield Godfrey
 
These genial performances are perfectly in scale and will be welcome to many.