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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Deutsche Messe, D. 872 [40:28]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Ave verum corpus, K. 619 [3:01]
César FRANCK (1822-1890) Panis angelicus [4:05]
Max REGER (1873-1916) Mariä Wiegenlied from Schlicte Weisen, Op.76, No. 2 [2:34]
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)/J. S. BACH (1685-1750) Ave Maria [2:35]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Laudate Dominum, K. 339 [5:19]
Hansi Buchwinder (soprano)
Eric Ingwersen (organ)
Tölzer Knabenchor/Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden
Original Studio Recording from 1974 remastered 24 bit/96 kHz

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The feature presentation on this disc, Schubertís Deutsche Messe, had its genesis in an interesting combination of musical pragmatism and religious significance. The texts, by Johann Philip Neumann, are notable in that they are a German setting of the Roman Catholic Mass. The goal, of course, was to allow wider access to the content of the liturgy, which, incidentally, was also the goal of Emperor Joseph II when he decreed that Latin be abandoned and German adopted as the language of the Church. Neumann, who commissioned Schubert to set his texts, performed the Deutsche Messe with students from the Polytechnic Institute where he was professor of physics. It seems logical that he would have alerted Schubert to the amateur status of these student musicians. Schubert responded with a piece that combined both religious and pragmatic concerns. The text is always intelligible, and the piece is extraordinarily singable: phrases are short and grammatical, the extremes of the vocal ranges are avoided, the texture is generally homophonic, and instrumental interludes provide ample time to prepare for upcoming entrances. The effect is quite attractive, if not overwhelmingly interesting.

The Tölzer Knabenchor, under the director of Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden, gives an admirable reading of the work in some respects. Diction is generally good, and the choir certainly sings with passion that can only come from a true understanding of the text. The accompanying wind ensemble (Schubert scored no string parts) provides beautiful support throughout. However, this performance is lacking in several important technical aspects. Crisp, unison final consonants that are essential for solid homophonic choral singing are often totally non-existent in this recording. In many cut-offs, one can hear at least a few voices continuing to phonate beyond the rest of the choir. Vowel unity is also a problem for this group as the vowel is often completely unintelligible. Schmidt-Gaden seems partial to parsing the already small phrases into even smaller units. The result is disjunct, ungrammatical singing as some of his phrasing decisions approach defiance of the phrase structure of the German. Balance is troubling at times as the middle voices, particularly the tenors, overpower the fragile voices of the boy sopranos.

It is a relief to say that many of the problems encountered in the Schubert are not present in the selections that follow. Both Mozart pieces show the choir in considerably better form. The more limited vowel palette that Latin offers seems to help the choir as vowel unity is much more consistently successful. The phrasing in these selections is also greatly improved. Hansi Buchwinder, soprano, offers two selections: the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria and the solo part of the Laudate Dominum from Mozartís Vesperae solennes de confessore. The Bach/Gounod contains some superb moments. The high notes approach the limits of his range, but the overall effect is sublime. Renowned for its difficultly (just ask a professional soprano), the Mozart offers a much larger challenge than the Bach/Gounod. Buchwinder meets it head on, but some moments require more technical finesse than he has available. However, it is imperative to note that any boy soprano who can even get through this piece deserves considerable admiration.

While it would be tempting to purchase this disc for the interesting and varied repertoire included, the performances, for the most part, do not make it an essential addition to any collection. There are some truly exceptional moments; however, these do not compensate for the more prominent sections of mediocrity.

Jonathan Rohr

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