One of the finest I have heard
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Johann Simon MAYR (1763-1845)
Missa in c (Einsiedeln-Messe) (1826) [49:48]
Stabat Mater (ca 1803) [27:51]
Katja Stuber (soprano), Marion Eckstein (contralto), Fernando Guimarães (tenor), Tareq Nazmi (bass), Orpheus Vokalensemble, Concerto Köln/Florian Helgath
rec. Kath. Kirche St. Johann, Rot an der Rot, 21-22 August 2015
Sung texts with German and English translations enclosed CARUS 83.480 [77:51]
The Mayr series on Naxos, masterminded by Franz Hauk, started more than ten years ago and given how much the German born Italian wrote, it might well continue for another ten years without loss of quality. I first reviewed a disc in the series in January 2007 and had heard very little of Mayr’s music before. I was hooked by it and ended the review “I like it more and more”. Since then I have had quite a number of Mayr discs for review, and my appetite has grown. This is the first Mayr disc not from Naxos that has come my way, but there is a connection insofar as Franz Hauk has written the liner notes, and he is possibly the greatest authority on Mayr. He is even the organist in Ingolstadt where Mayr studied in his youth.
The two works recorded here were composed more than twenty years apart and are quite different in style, even though one easily recognises Mayr’s methods in both of them. They are both in the key of C minor. The Mass was completed at the latest in September 1825 and it was first performed at Einsiedeln on 28 May 1826. According to a letter from the Kapellmeister Father Bernhard Foresti, who conducted the premiere, the work obviously somewhat overtaxed the musical resources available in Einsiedeln but “One recognizes the hand of the master in everything, and this work will always remain in our musical archive in the front row with the beautiful masses by outstanding composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Hummel.”
For the mass Mayr partly drew on material from earlier compositions and he also quotes from works by Beethoven – the composer he admired most of all and to the honour of whom he also composed the cantata which was included in that first Mayr disc I mentioned above. Moreover he took large portions of the Credo from a Credo his student Donizetti had composed for an occasion in Bergamo a couple of years earlier. Today the copyright laws would have forbidden that!
The mass is powerful, melodious, full of life and joy and forward thrust, and the orchestration is, as always with Mayr, delicious. The choir has a lot to do; of the fifteen sections they are present in all but two: Benedictus, which is sung by three of the soloists, and Agnus Dei which is a duet. There are two solos: Sanctus for the soprano and the concluding Dona nobis pacem for the bass. The opening of Et resurrexit is in effect a schottische, but this is dance filled with joy, so why not? In the Agnus Dei and Dona nobis pacem a solo clarinet is featured. A life-enhancing work.
The Stabat Mater is a more solemn composition, but there are contrasts even so. The choir has much less to do than in the mass. It sings the opening Stabat Mater, the third section Quis est homo and the concluding Quando corpus followed by Amen. In between there are solo arias for each of the soloists and a duet for soprano and tenor. As is his wont Mayr sprinkles in instrumental solos for oboe and other woodwinds, in the alto aria a beautiful violin solo. The freshness that permeates so much of Mayr’s music is much in evidence also here.
The solo singing is assured and in the case of alto Marion Eckstein and basso Tareq Nazmi much more than that. Marion Eckstein sings Fac me tecum with rounded tone and fine legato, and Tareq Nazmi has a great operatic solo in Christe, cum sit hinc exire. The Orpheus Vokalensemble, consisting of singers from all over the world, has, since 2005, developed into one of the foremost international vocal groups and has an impressive discography. Their singing here is outstanding in every respect. The well-established Concerto Köln has, of course, few superiors in the Early Music world.
All in all this is a very valuable addition to the growing Mayr discography and should be heard by all with an interest in early 19th century choral music, not only by devoted Mayr-lovers.