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Schubert: Messe Es-dur, D 950

Schubert / Horak / Haselbock / Spirit Of Europe
Release Date: 06/08/2010 
Label:  Gramola   Catalog #: 98841   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  Alexander KaimbacherCornelia HorakJosef WagnerMichael Nowak
Conductor:  Martin Sieghart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brno Czech Philharmonic ChoirSpirit Of Europe Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 56 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUBERT Mass in E?, D 950 Martin Sieghart, cond; Spirit of Europe O; Czech P Ch Brno; Cornelia Horak (sop); Hermine Haselböck (alt); Michael Nowak, Alexander Kaimbacher (ten); Josef Wagner (bs) GRAMOLA 98841 (56:10)

Schubert’s masses are having a good run lately. As recently as Fanfare 33:6, Boyd Pomeroy reviewed a new release of the A?-Major Mass (No. 5) on Carus, and in 33:5, I welcomed a release of Schubert’s Read more G-Major (No. 2) and C-Major (No. 4) Masses on Naxos. Here we have the composer’s final Mass, the No. 6 in E?-Major, often affectionately referred to as the “two tenors Mass,” for its inspired but unusual “Et incarnatus est” vocal trio of soprano and two tenors.

Depending on the source one reads, the work is either Schubert’s greatest Mass or an abject failure. James Leonard, of All Music Guide , states that when Schubert composed his last setting of the Roman Catholic Mass in the final year of his life, he had fallen out of sympathy with the Roman Church, and that he was no longer a Catholic. I don’t know if Schubert officially renounced his Catholic faith, but like Beethoven and other Enlightenment-era figures, his belief system, whatever it may have been, was almost certainly not circumscribed by the dogma of any established religion. Leonard continues, however, observing that “although Schubert tried in his final Mass to imbue the text with the same ecstatic energy of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis , the music sounds more ironic than ecstatic and more disingenuous than candid.”

Harsh criticism? Perhaps, but it tends to jibe with other accounts. The Mass was requested from Schubert by Michael Lietermayer, the choral director of Vienna’s Zur allerheiligsten Dreifaltigkeit Church and a friend of the composer since childhood. For his effort, Schubert received not a single Pfennig and did not live to hear the work performed. Leonard’s above-quoted critique of the music’s inappropriateness to its text is actually mild compared to contemporary critical reaction. A review in Leipzig’s Allgemeine Musikzeitung in 1829 would probably have sent Schubert to an early grave if syphilis hadn’t beaten it to the punch: “This work by the highly venerated composer was in no way satisfactory. The predominantly gloomy style by far better suits a Requiem; all movements are drawn out to exhaustion, most rhapsodically; overloaded with wind and brass instruments, especially trombones. The appropriate range and position of the voices almost always falls short; one evasion offers its hand to another; the cold sweat that is shed is noticeable in the fugues, and there is only little that can be said to honor the penmanship.”

I’m so demoralized. I always liked the piece and thought it was Schubert’s finest Mass; surely, despite the naysayers, I’m not alone in that opinion, for it far exceeds all of the composer’s other masses in number of recordings. But truth be told, there isn’t much of it that rises to the level of genius heard in the composer’s final handful of works, other than the aforementioned “Et incarnatus est,” which is of an otherworldly beauty, and the exquisite opening Kyrie, which on the surface sounds a lot simpler and less sophisticated than it is—almost harking back to the innocence of the 1815 G-Major Mass—but its restless modulations and irregular resolutions are harbingers of Bruckner.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this performance by the Spirit of Europe, another of those cultural melting-pot orchestras made up of 35 musicians from various European nations, including Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. The ensemble was formed in 2004 and is headquartered in Melk, Austria. As it happens, the performance is really quite heartwarming. Aided by an exceptionally transparent recording, the orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic Choir of Brno, and the five vocal soloists play and sing like they’ve never read the Allgemeine Musikzeitung review. They are thoroughly convinced of the beauties of the score and deliver it with the raptness of first discovery. It’s a heaven-gazing, hushed, awed quality I’ve looked for in other recordings with Abaddo, Mackerras, Sawallisch, and Hickox, but have not found until now. How anyone can listen to that rapturous “Et incarnatus est” and say that Schubert had lost his faith is beyond me. Michael Nowak, the first tenor, has that ideal boyish voice that is not only perfect in this context, but that I always look for in the young First Prisoner who tears at your heartstrings with his solo, “Wir wollen mit Vertrauen,” in Beethoven’s Fidelio.

This is a wonderful performance and recording of Schubert’s E?-Major Mass, one that I cannot recommend too highly.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Mass no 6 in E flat major, D 950 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Alexander Kaimbacher (), Cornelia Horak (), Josef Wagner (),
Michael Nowak ()
Conductor:  Martin Sieghart
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Brno Czech Philharmonic Choir,  Spirit Of Europe Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Venue:  Stadtsaal Mistelbach, Lower Austria 
Length: 6 Minutes 18 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950: Kyrie
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950: Gloria
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950: Credo
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950: Sanctus
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950: Benedictus
Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950: Agnus Dei

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