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Jan Ladislav DUSSEK (1760-1812)
Messe Solemnelle (1811)
Stefanie True (soprano)
Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano)
Gwilym Bowen (tenor)
Morgan Pearse (baritone)
Choir of the AMM
Academy of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
rec. 27-30 October 2019, The Church of St. Augustine, Kilburn, London, England
AAM RECORDS AAM011 [60:14]

The Messe Solennelle by Czech composer and pianist, Jan Ladislav Dussek here receives its premiere recording in a new performing edition by Reinhard Siegert taken from Dussek’s autograph manuscript score for Richard Egarr, who secured the work’s release from a Florence library especially for this recording. The single disc has been issued in a deluxe presentation, with a hundred-page hardback book in a sturdy, gatefold digipack which takes up the same room as a multi-CD box, and it is a real gem.

My exposure to the music of Dussek has been somewhat limited, having heard only a couple of discs of his solo piano music, although this has been bolstered in the last few years by the admirable Hyperion discs of the piano concertos with Howard Shelley (CDA68027; CDA68211). I therefore have no experience of his vocal music, so this new disc is more than welcome, and will launch me on a path to new discoveries as I further investigate the composer. Devotees of Joseph Haydn’s late masses will be familiar with the name of Princess Maria Josepha Hermenegilde Esterházy; this work, like Haydn’s last six masses, was apparently composed for her name day, but the evidence for that is sketchy and it might never have been performed – or, at best, just given just the once before being filed away.

The music seems contemporary with many a work of the day, although I would say it is a little inferior to those magnificent late masses by Haydn. That said, this mass does not deserve to have languished in obscurity in a Florentine library for over 200 years. This is a Messe Solemnelle and is therefore more solemn in character than Haydn’s offerings, but it still contains some exciting and expansive writing, which, at times, contains real pathos and emotion. Try the Sanctus or Agnus Dei, for example, and you will hear that this is a must for anyone interested in early nineteenth century music.

The Messe Solemnelle gets a performance here that deserves to resurrect it from its period of obscurity and unjustified neglect. The four soloists are first-rate, giving a performance which betrays no sign of the work’s obscurity. Their interjections are excellent; from the very first entry, the duet between Stefanie True and Gwilym Bowen in the Christe, we hear what they have to offer, and I am glad to say that the singing of both Helen Charlston and Morgan Pearse is also up to the mark. The twenty-voice chorus is absolutely wonderful, tender and subdued when called for, but also at times sounding larger than you would expect from their numbers. They perform well with the vocal soloists, but for me it is with the orchestra that they really excel; just listen to their interaction in the Cum Sancto, where the chorus and orchestra blend so well, especially when the brass enters. As we have come to expect from their earliest days under Christopher Hogwood to their modern incarnation with Richard Egarr, the AMM orchestra is superb. This really is a performance to savour, one which deserves - and has certainly received from me - repeated listenings.

The recorded sound is excellent, and, as I say above, the booklet is an impressive amalgam of history, musicology and details of the editorial and musical practice employed in this performance. This, combined with lavish illustrations, facsimiles of the music and a full text and translation, offers the listener all they could want to know about this work. I do not know if there are other language options available in other countries, but the English texts are clear and succinct, which aids easy reading. This adds greatly to the music and its performance, making this a highly recommendable release which, I imagine, I will be regularly enjoying for a long time to come.

Stuart Sillitoe



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