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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Coronation Mass, K317 (1779) [25:54]
Vesperae solennes de confessore, K339 (1780) [25:52]
Sandrine Piau (soprano), Renata Pokupić (alto), Benjamin Bruns (tenor), Andreas Wolf (bass)
Insula orchestra/Laurence Equilbey
rec. Cathédral Notre-Dame de Saint-Omer, France, 2016
ERATO 9029 587253 [51:47]

Laurence Equilbey’s superb recording of Mozart’s Requiem set high expectations for more Mozart from her choir, Accentus. Many will be pleased to learn of these performances of Mozart’s Coronation Mass and the Vesperae solennes de confessore. Unfortunately, the disc is a disappointment.

The problem is with the recording, not the performance. The soloists are placed quite forward, but the choir seems distant. There is lots of welcome orchestral detail, but the choir is hazy and sounds undernourished. Accentus sang lustily enough for Equilbey in her recording of the Requiem, so the problem is not that it is a weak ensemble or has too few singers.

This performance has an appealing rhythmic edge, with incisive orchestral playing. The drums in the Gloria may be a bit overdone for some, but I enjoyed them. The voices are on the operatic side, so this is not a timid church performance. The Agnus Dei is especially lovely.

If the choir had greater presence this would be an excellent version of the Coronation mass, which is music brimming with energy and bouncy enthusiasm. There are many alternatives. I enjoy Helmut Rilling’s performance, which also features a more engaging duet in the Kyrie. And I still cherish Igor Markevitch’s aging version, just to hear the voices of Maria Stader and Ernst Haefliger. DG did a better job capturing this choir over half a century ago than Erato does now.

The Vespers are less soloistic. In LP days of yore, they were routinely the B side to recordings of the Coronation mass, so it is a comfort to find them once more in a supporting role. Apart from the glorious Laudate Dominum, I have too long regarded these Vespers as weaker Mozart – great music if by anyone else, but second-tier for the master. However, Equilbey and her forces persuade me that my judgment was too harsh. They make the Beatus vir dance along splendidly, and the Laudate fugue flows quite appealingly.

Accentus deserves better from Erato. What a pity.

Richard Kraus


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