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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Große Messe c-Moll (Great Mass in C minor), KV427 (1782/83)
(Reconstructed/completed by Clemens Kemme. 2018)
Christina Landshamer (soprano), Anke Vondung (mezzo-soprano), Steve Davislim (tenor), Tobias Berndt (baritone)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/Howard Arman
rec. live, April 2018, Prinzregententheater, Munich
Wege zur Musik (Paths to Music) A work introduction by Markus Vanhoefer (author, director) with music examples, rec. 2018
BR-KLASSIK WISSEN 900917 [50.53 + 73.10]

Part of the BR-Klassik Wissen series, this double album features a live recording of Mozart’s ‘GreatC minor Mass with Howard Armen conducting the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. Arman has chosen to perform the 2018 reconstructed/completed version of Mozart’s score by Clemens Kemme. Contained on the album is a second CD titled Wege zur Musik (Paths to Music) primarily aimed at the German speaking market. This is an explanation of the ‘GreatMass written by Markus Vanhoefer in the manner of a play narrated in German by actors with music excerpts. Consequently, as a non-German speaker there is no worth to me in this second CD.

The ‘GreatC minor Mass was written by Mozart, then aged twenty-six, possibly as a vow to God that he would compose in gratitude a huge Mass should his then-fiancée Constanze Weber recover from serious illness. However, for some reason Mozart didn’t complete the Mass which is missing substantial portions of the Credo and the whole Agnus Dei. Incomplete though it is, the ‘GreatC minor Mass is considered a masterwork of the sacred choral repertoire. It’s a large-scale work, a Missa solemnis, scored for two soprano soloists, tenor and bass, double chorus and large orchestra. Although incomplete the first performance of the ‘GreatMass took place in Salzburg in October 1783 (on the twentieth Sunday after Pentecost) with Constanze as one of the soprano soloists.

On this new recording under Howard Arman, German soprano Christina Landshamer sings beautifully with a bright, radiant tone delivering splendid high notes and excels especially in the opening movement Kyrie eleison with chorus. Another fine performance is given by German mezzo-soprano Anke Vondung who certainly shines in the Laudamus te offering real care for the import of the words together with her admirable coloratura. Cultured contributions too from tenor Steve Davislim giving a smooth performance and forthright baritone Tobias Berndt. All four soloists sound suitably pious but circumspect where providing drama is concerned, certainly when compared to the soloists on my chosen rival recordings from Ferenc Fricsay (1959) and Leonard Bernstein (1990). Making an impact here is Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks however the playing of Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin on period instrument seems rather lacklustre. As an overall performance there is little generated in the way of religious awe and power which is a quality present on my preferred recordings.

Recorded Live at Prinzregententheater, Munich I have no problems whatsoever with the clear and well-balanced sound. I’m reasonably familiar with the Latin text of the Missa solemnis but I don’t know it well enough to do without it and it’s disappointing there is no text or English translation in the booklet. Nevertheless, there is a helpful booklet essay titled ‘Mozart, Mass in C minor - Unfinished Masterpiece in a New Edition’ written by Clemens Kemme who reconstructed/completed the score used here.

There is fierce competition between recordings of Mozart’s ‘GreatC minor Mass and there are several accounts I particularly admire in the catalogue. In recent years I have become drawn to the engaging and steadfast recording from Ferenc Fricsay with the Choir of St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale and Radio-Symphonie-Orchester, Berlin. Recorded at 1959 at Haus des Rundfunk, Berlin Fricsay’s soloists are Maria Stader, Hertha Töpper, Ernst Haefliger and Ivan Sardi. This remastered recording on Deutsche Grammophon ‘The Originals’ is coupled with Haydn's Te Deum, Hob. XXIIIc:2. Worthy of consideration too is another treasured recording, Leonard Bernstein’s dramatic 1990 performance with Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Bernstein was recorded live at Stiftsbasilika Waldsassen on Deutsche Grammophon c/w Ave verum corpus KV 618; Exsultate, jubilate, KV 165. Experience has taught me that with large scale choral works it pays to check out recordings from Philippe Herreweghe, the Belgian period-instrument specialist. In the ‘GreatMass Herreweghe is particularly impressive with his captivating period interpretation with La Chapelle Royale, Collegium Vocale and Orchestre des Champs-Élysées recorded in 1991 on Harmonia Mundi c/w Masonic Funeral Music, KV 477.

Howard Arman’s period informed approach sounds markedly less bold and resolute, far less dramatic although perhaps more devotional, certainly when compared to my preferred accounts namely Ferenc Fricsay and Leonard Bernstein both on Deutsche Grammophon.

Michael Cookson


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