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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Mass in C minor, K427 [52:15]
Exsultate, jubilate, K165 [13:50]
Exsultate, jubilate (Salzburg version) [4:24]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano); Olivia Vermeulen (mezzo); Makoto Sakurada (tenor); Christian Immler (baritone)
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. November 2015, Saitama Arts Theatre, Concert Hall, Japan
BIS SACD BIS2171 [71:17]

Over recent years I've been enjoying Masaaki Suzuki's traversal of J.S. Bach's Sacred Cantatas; volume 55 appeared in 2013. In fact, this was my cycle of choice for MusicWeb International Recommends.

The Bach Collegium Japan was founded by Suzuki in 1990, with the intention of introducing Japanese audiences to period Baroque performances. Aside from the 55 volume cantata survey, they’ve recorded other large-scale choral works, not only by Bach, but also by Monteverdi, Handel and Mozart. The latter composer’s Requiem was released in 2014 (review). I’ve previously reviewed their two volumes of Bach’s Lutheran Masses (Volume 1 ~ Volume 2).

It’s regrettable that Mozart never completed his two greatest choral works. As regards the Requiem, death intervened, but the facts are less certain as to why the Mass in C minor remained incomplete. This 'Great' Mass, as it’s often called, was composed in Vienna in 1782 and 1783, and is scored for two sopranos, a tenor, a bass, a double chorus and large orchestra. It remained unfinished, missing all of the Credo following the aria Et incarnatus est, and the Agnus Dei. The Sanctus also required reconstruction from surviving sketches. Suzuki uses Franz Beyer's 1989 edition for this recording.

Mozart married Constanze Weber in 1782 against his father's wishes. Their first child was born a year later, and the couple made a visit to Salzburg, receiving a frosty reception from Leopold. During his stay Wolfgang directed a performance of this liturgical torso. He’d made a vow to write it as a mark of gratitude for the recovery of Constanze who had been ill. The solo soprano features prominently, no doubt with his wife in mind, to showcase her vocal abilities and musicianship. She did indeed sing the part in this Salzburg performance.

The Kyrie has sufficient weight, solemnity and grandeur, building to the radiant soprano solo. Suzuki captures the mood of elation in the opening of the Gloria. The counterpoint is clearly defined, and the balance between the choir and orchestra is perfectly balanced. Sampson's Laudamus te is rhythmically spirited and combines operatic prowess with devotional intensity. In the Domine Deus, she's joined by the mezzo Olivia Vermeulen. Their voices blend intimately and they sing with great passion. The fugal passages in the Cum Sancto Spiritu are masterfully executed, and bring the Gloria to a triumphant conclusion. The soprano Carolyn Sampson I would single out for her splendid solo contributions. Her voice has exceptional beauty and flexibility, and what many have described as a silvery tone. Her intonation is faultless and to everything she brings refinement and poise. In the exquisite Et incarnatus est her impressive coloratura and lyrical sense of line are striking. In the Benedictus all four soloists are given the opportunity to shine. Makoto Sakurada and Christian Immler, who have lesser roles in this work than the two female soloists, make persuasive contributions.

Sampson is again in the spotlight for the Exsultate Jubilate, an exhilarating account and a captivating addendum to this superb disc. Again she negotiates the line with effortless technique and precision, shaping the phrases with style and musicality. There's such joy and abandon here; it could hardly be bettered. Suzuki’s lithe accompaniment is characterful. A bonus is the inclusion of the 'Salzburg' version of the opening aria. Here Mozart replaces the oboe parts with flutes, with the text altered to make it suitable for Trinity Sunday.

There's no doubting that, as with all Masaaki Suzuki's recordings for BIS, the standard remains top-notch. Recording quality is impeccable, allowing for all the musical detail to be heard. The chorus are well-rehearsed and blend admirably with the orchestral players. The orchestra never drowns out the vocal forces. All of the soloists are excellent, and are impeccably attuned to the ebb and flow of this wonderfully rich, melodic music. Suzuki's scholarly interpretation, inspirational direction and intuitive pacing of the score ensure this recording is a winner on every count. A tremendous achievement.

Stephen Greenbank



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