Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Great Mass in C minor KV 427 (1783) (ed. Bernius and Wolf) [52:22]
Credo from KV 427 (Fragment – based on Mozart’s incomplete autograph without completed instrumental parts) [3:36]
Sarah Wegener (soprano); Sophie Harmsen (mezzo-soprano); Colin Balzer (tenor); Felix Rathgeber (bass)
Hofkapelle Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. Evangelische Kirche Gönningen, Germany, 20-22 July 2016
CARUS 83.284 [56:06]
Frieder Bernius and musicologist Uwe Wolf collaborated on a new edition of Mozart’s unfinished Mass in C minor by studying the autograph score, such as it is, and devising a new orchestration where those parts were missing. They did not add any movements to the mass, as some previous scholars have done, but stuck with the torso that is most often performed today. Much like Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony, Mozart’s Great Mass stands by itself as one of the composer’s supreme masterpieces. In addition to the performance of the mass in this edition, Bernius has appended a fragment of the Credo from the autograph score, which does not contain the completed instrumental parts. All of this would matter greatly had this new version shed significant light on a work that is well known and loved by all devotees of Mozart.
I compared Bernius’ recording with two others also employing period instruments: John Eliot Gardiner’s with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists (Philips) and Paul McCreesh’s with the Gabrieli Consort and Players (Archiv). Without having a score to hand, it would be difficult to detect real differences in these versions as to the editions employed. The differences I hear are in the various interpretations and their respective execution. Bernius’ approach is one of monumentality and heft. His choral and vocal forces show conviction, but the competition is considerable. Also his recording tends to be bass heavy with prominent timpani and lower brass that can cover the choir’s singing at times. His tempi are slower for the most part than either Gardiner’s or McCreesh’s. Gardiner is one of the very few to have a tenor intone a brief liturgical chant at the beginning of the Gloria and Credo—a rather effective touch. With his expertise in Bach and Handel, Gardiner keeps the dance element alive in the Credo and Hosanna sections. While he can be monumental when appropriate, he is not heavy and he brings out the joyousness better than I have heard it in other versions. Next to this, McCreesh can seem hasty, though not the speed demon of Louis Langrée in his account (Virgin). The soloists on Bernius’ recording are all more than satisfactory, even if they tend to be operatic and do not blend as well as Gardiner’s or McCreesh’s.
With all the competition, including Masaaki Suzuki’s recent recording for BIS that has garnered much praise, the main reason to hear this new one is for the last track containing the unadorned Credo of the autograph score. Here Bernius takes a lighter approach. If only he had not made such heavy weather of the mass elsewhere.
Carus has outdone itself, however, in its production. The CD is housed within cardboard covers and a substantial booklet containing detailed notes on the genesis of the work and the new edition. If this and the short, original Credo are enough to warrant purchase, then by all means do so. Otherwise, I would stick with Gardiner or another recommended version.