Robin Ticciati’s fruitful association with the Tudor label continues. For this disc he’s joined once again by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and the Choir of Bavarian Radio with whom he made a very fine Brahms disc in 2009 (review
). By a strange coincidence both of the recordings of Bruckner’s F minor Mass that I have in my collection also involve the Bavarian Radio Choir. They sing for Eugen Jochum on his 1962 DG recording and also appear on Sir Colin Davis’s 1988 Philips CD: both of those recordings were made in Munich and involved the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. The Bavarian choir made a splendid contribution to both of those earlier recordings and the 2013 cohort proudly upholds that tradition.
We learn from Alfred Beaujean’s note that the F minor Mass was commissioned in 1867 by the Imperial Court Orchestra but Bruckner’s work on it was disrupted by illness and it took him over a year to complete the score. Thus it comes between the First Symphony (1866) and the Second (1872). It was first performed in 1872 when it achieved quite a success. It was, I believe, the last work that he composed in Linz before moving to Vienna so in a sense it closes a chapter in his career. It does so in another sense too, for although it was not the last piece of sacred music that Bruckner composed it was his last – and most substantial - setting of the Mass: thereafter symphonies were his main preoccupation. While listening I was struck by how mature it seems whereas in the symphonies he composed around this time he was still some way from the full maturity of his last few symphonies.
The Mass is on a grand scale and Alfred Beaujean says that Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis
was ‘undoubtedly’ the model. I can see what he means but I wonder how familiar Bruckner might have been also with Schubert’s settings in A flat and E flat.
I don’t know how experienced Robin Ticciati is at conducting Bruckner symphonies but he certainly seems at home here in the Bruckner idiom. That’s evident from the outset as he invests the Kyrie movement with gravitas and breadth yet he keeps the music sensibly on the move too. In this movement though there are some interjections from the soloists it’s the choir that sustains most of the musical argument and Ticciati’s choir does very well indeed: their singing is expressive, the sound well-balanced and focused.
The Gloria opens jubilantly though very soon Bruckner introduces strong dynamic contrasts and these are well observed in this performance. But when the music is extrovert we find both choir and orchestra projecting strongly and effectively. There’s hushed, expressive singing in the passage that begins at ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’ and hereabouts Ticciati shapes the music very well. Later there’s a good blend of grandeur and energy at ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’. Though the mandatory fugue on ‘In gloria Dei Patris’ seems rather to have been tacked on – that’s no fault of the performers – yet the choir delivers it with real commitment.
In a fine performance of the Credo the stand-out moment is ‘Et resurrexit’, which has great splendour here thanks in no small measure to the excellent quality of the recorded sound. This passage is powerful and jubilant with some grand and exciting playing from the Bamberg brass – though I feel the timpanist gets carried away momentarily at one point. The introduction to the Benedictus is warmly played by the Bamberg strings and the movement is expressively done by all concerned with some very good contributions from the soloists. The last movement, the Agnus Dei, is intense and expressive and the hushed singing and playing in the last few pages sets the seal on a very fine account of this Mass.
I haven’t commented on the soloists individually but they make an excellent team and I enjoyed their work. The orchestra too makes a very fine contribution but in this score it’s the choir that takes centre stage for most of the proceedings and the Bavarian Radio Choir excel in every way.
Ticciati’s conducting is very good indeed. All his recordings to date that have come my way have given me great pleasure and this is no exception. The success of the enterprise is helped in no small measure by the splendid sound on this hybrid disc to which I listened as an SACD. Producer Bernhardt Albrecht and engineer Reinhold Forster have given us a recording that has ample presence and fine definition. The dynamic range is wide, though not excessively so, and I felt that the sound was just right for this kind of music and presented the performance superbly for domestic listening. The booklet contains a useful note in German with English and French translations by Alfred Beaujean. There’s also a note in English only by Ben Quash which is too fulsome in tone and tendentious for my taste. When I tell you that it’s entitled ’A Sweet Hunger for God’ you may understand what I mean.