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Leopold MOZART (1719-1787)
Missa Solemnis in C major
Arianna Vendittelli (soprano), Sophie Rennert (alto), Patrick Grahl (tenor), Ludwig Mittelhammer (bass)
Das Vokalprojekt
Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie/Alessandro de Marchi
rec. 2018, Studio 1, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich
Full Latin texts with English, French and German translations in booklet
APARTÉ AP205 [48:21]

This new recording of Leopold Mozart’s Missa Solemnis has been released in 2019 to mark the three-hundredth anniversary of the composer’s birth.

Hearing the ‘ToySymphony on the radio, a work often attributed to Leopold Mozart, has me quickly reaching for the off switch. Whether or not Leopold wrote the score, it does tend to dominate the composer’s oeuvre. Although the Augsburg-born Leopold was a master at promoting his genius son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, in truth little is known about his own works. Musicologist and critic Alfred Einstein considered Leopold a rather unremarkable composer. Biographer Maynard Solomon acknowledged Leopold’s lack of success. At one time employed as a violinist and deputy kapellmeister at the court of the prince-archbishops of Salzburg, Leopold switched to full-time promotion of his son’s career. His output has been described as extensive, but its range and quality cannot be fully evaluated because much of it is missing.

When I encounter Leopold Mozart’s albums, they most likely consist mainly of Sinfonias. Matthias Bamert conducts them on Chandos, Kevin Mallon on Naxos and Michi Gaigg on CPO; Reinhard Goebel has released an album with a Serenade, Concerto and Sinfonia on Oehms. In addition, in 1989 soloist Hĺkan Hardenberger recorded a celebrated Philips album of Trumpet Concertos including Leopold’s, and there is a 1996 album of Horn Concertos conducted by Heinz Friesen on MDG Gold. The relative scarcity of recordings probably demonstrates the current lack of interest in Leopold’s works. His tercentenary seems to have sadly resulted in only a very modest number of new releases.

Here, Alessandro De Marchi has recorded Missa solemnis, a large-scale work for SATB, mixed choir and orchestra. To my knowledge, no particular stimulus behind the composition of this piece is known, and neither is there an exact date of composition. Now deleted, but worth searching out, is the splendid 1981 account Koch-Schwann with Arleen Augér (soprano), Gabriele Schreckenbach (alto), Horst Laubenthal (tenor), Barry McDaniel (bass), Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale Berlin and Domkapelle Berlin conducted by Roland Bader.

The Missa solemnis might be a work that comes nowhere near the elevated level of accomplishment that Leopold’s son achieved in his prime, but under de Marchi this is a marvellous performance that bowled me over. Compared to the pared-back 1981 account on Koch-Schwann, Marchi conveys a more uplifting, almost theatrical, quality to the reverential text, which feels like a celebration of life. Four well-chosen soloists sing most effectively. My highlight is the Benedictus with a glorious soprano solo. Arianna Vendittelli is well controlled and expressive, soaring successfully to her high register. She is accompanied effectively by the strings and by Judith Rampini’s lovely extended flute solos. Tenor Patrick Grahl is also engaging in Et in unum Dominum; he has smooth tone and noticeably excellent diction. The alto Sophie Rennert displays her rich, low register, and the bass Ludwig Mittelhammer sounds unfailingly reverential.

Augsburg-based Bayerische Kammerphilharmonie uses only twenty-two musicians, playing on modern instruments. The chamber orchestra clearly relishes the task. With de Marchi’s lively speeds, there is a very occasional untidiness to the orchestral playing, yet overall the performance is excellent. There is surprising weight from the string section, which sounds much larger than the modest complement of thirteen players. The singing of Vokalprojekt, nineteen young singers, is striking and compelling, with character and impressive unison in the main.

The studio recording in Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich was produced for radio broadcast on BR-Klassik. It is relatively close; the notably cool and clear sound is well balanced. The booklet contains Sylvie Kürsten’s essay and full Latin texts with an English translation, for which I am most grateful. My only grumble is that, with such a short playing time, another work was not included.

This is a valuable addition to the extremely meagre Leopold Mozart discography.

Michael Cookson

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