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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Great Mass in C minor (1783)
Sarah Wegener (soprano), Sophie Harmson (Mezzosoprano), Colin Balzer (tenor), Felix Rathgeber (bass)
Kammerchor Stuttgart, Hofkapelle Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. July 2016, Evangelische Kirche Gönningen, Germany CARUS 83.284 [56:06]
Here is an enjoyable performance of Mozart’s Great C Minor Mass by the veteran choral conductor, Frieder Bernius. There are many outstanding recordings of this popular work, so the competition is quite fierce. Performances by Masaaki Suzuki (BIS), John Eliot Gardiner (Philips), and Louis Langrée (Virgin) make more compelling claims.
I do not wish to dismiss Bernius’s performance, which gives a lot of pleasure, and it is difficult to imagine anyone regretting having it in a music collection. Sarah Wegener excels in the ‘Christe’, an ardent love song, first sung by Constanze (Weber) Mozart on her visit to Salzburg to meet her new in-laws. The duel of the two sopranos in the ‘Domine’ is thrilling, but so it is in several other versions. More distinctive is the ‘Qui Tollis’, where Bernius captures a steady tread that calls to mind a procession of penitents. The ‘Credo’ has a wonderful Handelian grandeur, full of trumpets, drums, and majesty. The choir is quite exciting in the ‘Sanctus’.
But this new recording does not dislodge Langrée as my favorite, with his stellar cast of soloists (Dessay, Gens, Lehtipuu, Pisaroni). For Bernius, Sarah Wegener sings very well in the great ‘Et incarnatus es’t, but she is not quite so fine as Natalie Dessay. Some object to the Langrée version for its speed, especially in the ‘Credo’. I thought Langrée’s ‘Credo’ sounded absurd the first few times I listened, until I was won over by the sense of urgency which the faster tempo gives to the choir’s declaration of faith.
Carus’ recording captures choir and orchestra quite satisfactorily, until you play it alongside the Langrée, which has a brilliant clarity that makes the performance more gripping.
Bernius offers a modest reconstruction of lost details of orchestration in the Credo and Incarnatus est, but the differences from many other versions are not dramatic. As a bonus for the curious, Bernius has recorded a barebones version of the Credo in its surviving orchestration.