Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Mass in C minor, Op.147 Missa Sacra* [39.32]
Four songs for double chorus, Op.141 [18.31]
Amandine Trenc (soprano),* Marianne Crebassa (mezzo),* Cyrille Dubois
Les Cris de Paris choir and orchestra*/Geoffroy Jourdain
rec. Refectory of Royaumont Abbey, 27-28 September, 2-3 October 2011
APARTE AP 044 [58.05]
Schumann’s Mass in C minor first appears
to have surfaced in the record catalogues in a 1987 EMI recording by
Wolfgang Sawallisch with Bavarian Radio forces. This did not survive
long in the lists and has only been intermittently available since despite
being praised by the critics. It is currently to be found as part of
an EMI Classics Gemini double disc (50999 0946 350900 2 4) and on a
9 CD box of the Schumann choral works (50999 63152029). In fact listening
to that recording now, one finds it a rather ponderous traversal of
a work which has always been rather under a cloud.
Received wisdom has been that Schumann’s choral music, written
towards the end of his life, and under the shadow of imminent mental
illness, lacks the freshness of his earlier works. Well, the world is
not precisely short of choir-and-orchestra settings of the mass from
the nineteenth century, and it must be admitted that Schumann’s
Missa sacra is probably not among the best dozen or so of them.
However, in a performance like this, it comes up fresh as a daisy. A
simple comparison of the opening of the Gloria with Sawallisch
serves to display the difference a performance can make. With Sawallisch
the music is slightly slower, much more massive, and more resonant with
the chorus set rather far back in the audio spectrum. Here the music
bubbles with life, and the smaller forces nevertheless manage to give
the sound plenty of body without the chorus being overpowered. The recording
brings just the right sort of rapt religious ecstasy to the beginning
of the Sanctus and the acoustic suits the music perfectly. Some
of the scoring here (for example the solo bass trombone at track 5,
9.23) reminds one of the Berlioz Requiem, which Schumann may
well have heard during Berlioz’s conducting tours of Germany in
Where Sawallisch does score is in his more eminent soloists, but even
here this new issue has nothing to fear. The three singers may not be
as well known as Mitsuko Shirai or Peter Seiffert, but they have personable
voices and present their relatively short solos well. This performance,
like that by Sawallisch, includes the offertorium Tota pulchra es
which Schumann added after the first performance when he published the
work in a version with organ accompaniment. Sawallisch had Shirai to
sing this; here we have a mezzo-soprano, Marianne Crebassa (the part
does not go above F), whose warmer tone brings a more romantic and emotional
feel. One textual oddity: the bass solo O salutaris hostia in
the Sanctus (track 5, 5.37) is here sung by the basses of the
chorus. This works well, and is perhaps justified by an ambiguity in
the score; while the first entry is marked ‘solo’, when
the chorus echoes the words the bass line lacks the indication ‘chorus’.
One could therefore argue that the indication ‘solo’ indicates
a solo line for the choral basses rather than a single voice, although
I suspect that the direction ‘chorus’ eighteen bars later
was simply omitted from the score by accident.
The disc is completed by four songs for double chorus which Schumann
wrote three years earlier. These are more conventional partsongs in
the standard nineteenth century romantic mould. Although the use of
a double chorus produces a somewhat richer sound, the settings of the
texts are primarily homophonic and make minimal use of antiphonal effects.
This performance misses a point when (at track 7, 4.36) Schumann indicates
the brief use of a solo quartet juxtaposed against the choir; the full
choir is simply employed throughout, although there is no ambiguity
here in the marking of the score. The Orpheus Vokalensemble and the
Netherlands Chamber Choir in their respective recordings make a beautifully
mysterious effect by strict observance of Schumann’s precise directions.
The final song asks for a low C from the basses in the final bars, but
one would have welcomed more subterranean definition here.
Despite these occasional concerns, this issue is a pleasure throughout.
The singing of the choir is confident, and the orchestra in the Mass
has plenty of life. There are other versions of all these pieces in
the catalogue, but I cannot imagine that any of the alternatives would
be significantly better than this. The recording is immediate but has
plenty of atmosphere.
Paul Corfield Godfrey