Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mass in C major K317 Coronation [25:06]
Missa Brevis in F major K192 [21:38]
Church Sonatas Ė E flat major K67 [2:28]; F major K224 [3:12]
Ave verum corpus K618 [3:16]
Exsultate, jubilate K165 [14:22]
Susan Gritton (soprano); Frances Bourne (mezzo); Sam Furness (tenor); George Humphreys (baritone); John Challenger (organ); Choir of St Johnís College, Cambridge
St Johnís Sinfonia/Andrew Nethsingha
rec. St Johnís College Chapel, 19-21 July 2011
texts and translations included
CHANDOS CHACONNE CHAN 0786 [70:35]

Although no two commentators seem to agree on the reason for its name, the so-called Coronation Mass does have a distinctively festal character in terms of its scale and scoring compared with most of the composerís other early Masses. Its popularity Ė especially in the United Kingdom in this Diamond Jubilee year Ė is understandable but it would be easy to underestimate the difficulty of achieving a satisfactory performance. This version gets much right in this respect but suffers from what is to me a fatal flaw.
 
The best things about it are the performances of the choir and orchestra. The former sing with fervour and sensitivity as required, and the tang of the period instruments and subtlety of phrasing of the latter is full of character. The soloists are never less than adequate but none of them, even Susan Gritton who is heard to much greater advantage in Exsultate, jubilate, really makes the kind of impact that this work needs. Speeds are well chosen, and the style of phrasing and articulation is just right for the music. The problem, however, is one of balance. At the opening of the Kyrie, for instance, it takes several bars for the rhythm to become clear to the listener as the quavers of the violins on the second beat are scarcely audible. At the start of the Gloria the start of the violin phrase in the second bar only registers on the third beat. Most harmful of all, in the Et incarnatus est the very beautiful first violin decoration is virtually inaudible. I could list many other similar examples, and for me these are sufficient to spoil my enjoyment of what was clearly a very good performance.
 
One excellent idea is to divide the Mass into three sections by inserting two of the Church Sonatas. As the conductor explains, this gives the ear some relief from the triumphant trumpets and drums that otherwise dominate much of the Mass, rather in the way that the sections of the Mass would have been separated liturgically at its original performances. The Sonatas are well played and are indeed highlights of the disc. The real highlight however comes at the end. Susan Gritton sings the Exsultate, jubilate with real commitment and panache and the recently formed St Johnís Sinfonia play with real spirit.
 
There is indeed much to enjoy on this disc. Many listeners may well feel that my concerns over balance in the Mass are exaggerated, and for them the disc as a whole will have much to recommend it, including admirable essays on the music by Jeremy Summerly and the conductor. This is perhaps a disc to try first to test your reactions to the question of balance. Even if you share my view on this you may well feel that this is not sufficient to put you off what is in so many ways an excellent set of performances.
 
John Sheppard


In so many ways an excellent set of performances.