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Johann von HERBECK (1831-1877)
Große Messe in E minor for chorus, organ and orchestra (1866) [47.33]
Philharmonischer Chor München
Philharmonie Festiva/Gerd Schaller
Wieland Hofmann (organ)
rec. 2014, Max-Littmann-Saal, Regentenbau Bad Kissingen, Germany

Acknowledged by Berlioz as an excellent conductor Johann von Herbeck gave the première of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony in Vienna in 1865. Two years later he conducted the first three movements of Brahms’s Requiem and also directed the Vienna première of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Almost forgotten is von Herbeck’s compositional life with the exception of his Christmas motet Pueri Concinite of which there are numerous recordings and incidentally several YouTube clips. The only other von Herbeck recording I know is his Symphony No. 4 and Symphonic Variations on the label New Classical Adventure.

Pivotal to this recording is Bamberg-born conductor Gerd Schaller who formed the Philharmonie Festiva in 2008 with its core membership taken from the Münchner Bachsolisten augmented by musicians mainly from other Munich orchestras. Known for unearthing unknown and forgotten works Schaller discovered von Herbeck’s Grosse Messe at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Vienna. It received its première in Vienna under the composer’s baton in 1867. As the founder and artistic director of the Ebrach Summer Music Festival, Schaller in September 2014 presented the Große Messe, at the Max-Littmann-Saal, Regentenbau Bad Kissingen, almost one hundred and fifty years after its première.

It was fascinating having the opportunity of hearing this work. Although well crafted the score has its longueurs mainly being rather deficient in memorable ideas. It fails to hold the attention unlike the three contemporaneous Masses of spiritual journey that Bruckner wrote in the 1860s. Nevertheless there are some impressive episodes. Solidly wrought, the opening Kyrie boasts a gloriously passionate climax and I admire the lovely orchestral passage in the celebratory Gloria in adoration of God the Father and Christ. Beautifully intoned, the Sanctus praising the Holy Trinity is an effectively consoling movement and the Benedictus is reflective and rather melancholic. Opening darkly with a sense of mystery the Agnus Dei offers some especially moving singing. Gerd Schaller brings everything together steadfastly, maintaining effective tempi and dynamics. Successfully schooled by Andreas Herrmann the well unified and reverential Philharmonischer Chor München bring gratifying commitment to their singing. As I have come to expect from hearing its Bruckner cycle, the Philharmonie Festiva plays with dedication yet can find only a moderate degree of dramatic intensity in this score.

Recorded in the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen the engineering team has provided satisfactory sound quality. My only caveat is that the organ played by Wieland Hofmann is slightly recessed in the sound-picture. With regard to presentation the cover of this Profil release uses an unusual photograph of a young woman model. The essay is by Dr. Rainer Boss and is certainly adequate but the booklet fails to include text and translations.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Ralph Moore


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