Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Mass No. 2 for soloists, mixed choir, orchestra and organ in G major, D.167 (1815) [23:04]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Solemn Mass (Saint Cecilia Mass) for soloists, mixed choir, orchestra and organ (1855) [51:51]
Luba Orgonášová (soprano)
Christian Elsner (tenor)
Gustáv Beláček (bass)
Bavarian Radio Chorus/Peter Dijkstra
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, 27-29 March 2007, Herkulessaal, Residenz, Munich, Germany
Full Latin texts with English translations provided.
BR KLASSIK 900114 [75:05]
The Bavarian Radio Choir is now acknowledged as one of the finest vocal ensembles in the world. In May 2011 I attended an ‘all Mahler’ concert in the Munich Philharmonie where the Bavarian Radio Choir directed by Michael Gläser performed Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world) one of the Mahler Rückert-Lieder in an arrangement for chorus. On the same programme they sang in the mighty Symphony No. 2Resurrectionwith the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Mariss Jansons. Orchestra, chorus and conductor are world class.
Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G major and Gounod’s Saint Cecilia Mass were composed some forty years apart yet they are very different. Schubert was aged eighteen when in just a week he wrote his G major Mass,aMissa brevis in a rather economical style scored for strings and organ. Today we generally hear a later version of the work with added trumpets and timpani. By contrast Gounod’s large-scale and much loved Saint Cecilia Mass is richly scored and probably has more chance of being heard in a concert hall than a church setting. 
In spite of Schubert’s doubts about his Catholic faith he went on to write a substantial quantity of sacred choral music including six numbered masses which are only rarely played today. A defiant Schubert never did set the words ‘I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Churchpart of the creed that was seen as obligatory for performance during church services. Overshadowed by the popularity of works such as his Symphony No. 8 in B minorUnfinished’, the Symphony No. 9 in C majorGreat’ his Lieder, chamber music and solo piano works Schubert’s sacred choral music inexplicably remains one of his most overlooked categories. The Bavarian Radio forces provide an exhilarating account of Schubert’s Mass No. 2,a work that successfully mixes lyricism with spiritual fervour. I especially enjoyed the fleet and vigorous Gloria,almost celebratory in manner, with its impressively sung short duet for Luba Orgonášová and Christian Elsner. Masterful choral singing in the Credo is declamatory with highly memorable melodies. The bucolic mood of the Benedictus is altered by the trio of soloists with Orgonášová in remarkably fine voice. The audience applause has been left in. For those wanting to explore this neglected area of Schubert’s music I can recommend an outstanding EMI collection of Schubert Sacred Choral Works conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch who uses the Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra. This outstandingly performed and recorded collection of 35 sacred scores from Schubert including all the masses was recorded in 1977 and 1979/83 also at the same venue. It can be found as part of a 7 disc digitally re-mastered box set on EMI Classics 5 86011 2. Sawallisch’s impressive list of performers includes the following renowned soloists: Peter Schreier (tenor), Robert Tear (tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Helen Donath (soprano), Lucia Popp (soprano) and Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo-soprano).
Gounod was an extremely prolific writer of sacred music including a large number of masses. The website actually mentions a massive fifty masses. A highly devout Catholic, Gounod after studying theology for a time, took to wearing ecclesiastical robes even signing his letters as “Abbé Gounod.” The Solemn Mass for soloists, mixed choir, orchestra and organ from 1855 is more usually known as the Saint Cecilia Mass. In this work Jansons and his Bavarian choir and orchestra deliver a performance of significant dramatic weight combined with deep religious zeal. Jansons takes the listener on a thrilling and compelling journey. Imbued with a striking purity the opening Kyrie offers wondrous choral singing. The contribution from the trio of soloists adds to the engaging atmosphere with soprano Orgonášová soaring over the tenor and bass. In the Gloria and the Credo I was struck by the awesome power of the combined forces and the contrast provided by the soprano’s meltingly radiant solos. Highly memorable is the striking brass opening of the Credo; it could easily have come from a Meyerbeer or Verdi opera. The Sanctus is well known and much admired. It is intensely melodic and here is beautifully played. Tenor Christian Elsner is reverential and richly satisfying. To close the Domine Salvam - No. 3 Prière de la Nation the combined forces are extremely loud and striking with thunderous drums and blazing brass. Some cheering and highly enthusiastic applause marks the end of the mass. A notable alternative account of Gounod’s Saint Cecilia Mass that I have greatly enjoyed for its drama and energy is available from the Choeurs René Duclos and the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire under Jean-Claude Hartemann with soloists Pilar Lorengar (soprano), Heinz Hoppe (tenor) and Franz Crass (bass). The 1963 recording from St. Roch, Paris has been digitally re-mastered on EMI Classics 5 74730 2 (c/w Petite Symphonie for wind instruments).
The warm and closely recorded atmospheric sound is more than acceptable. Probably the only drawback is the bass Gustáv Beláček who is far too recessed to be heard to his best advantage.
The booklet notes are adequate without being outstanding. They leave me wanting more information about the two works. It is pleasing to see that full Latin texts with English translations are provided.
I warmly welcome this addition to the BR Klassik catalogue.
Michael Cookson
I warmly welcome this addition to the BR Klassik catalogue.