Notes and Editorial Reviews
Schubert composed six settings of the Mass, of which the first four are juvenile works; so that, while none of them is consistently great, if you are going to perform one at all, it should be one of the last two, in A flat and E flat, and it is strange that neither is, until now, in the current domestic catalogues. Though no Schubert Mass is very important in the context of all the George Guest [photo: Decca wonderful music he composed, it is right that as much as possible of a great composer's music should be recorded; and George Guest and his admirable forces do their best for this last Mass. But who would guess that it was composed in the last year of Schubert's life and after the great C major Symphony? It is so variable in quality: one
comes across an idea that is really original and inspired, but such patches don't last long and the rest is pretty conventional.
The Kyrie is thoughtful but not without touches of drama. In this Guest shows at once what is evident all through the performance, his unfailingly musical shaping of phrases: and towards the end there is a splendidly long and well-graded crescendo, with tension increasing throughout. Several times he inclines to fast speeds, particularly for the Gloria which Schubert marks allegro moderato e maestoso, a direction with which Guest's very vigorous and lively treatment hardly accords. However, this is probably best for a not strikingly good movement— until the tempo changes to a slower one at "Domine, Deus", the setting of which, as one writer has observed, is the most compelling moment in all the six Masses. The movement ends with a very uninspired fugue, as also does the Credo which, though it has its moments (like the imaginative setting of "Crucifixus") is very variable in quality.
The setting of the Sanctus is more consistently on a higher level of inspiration, starting with three cries of the word set to a typically remarkable Schubertian succession of chords, E flat major, B minor, then G major. The solo quartet alternates with the chorus in the Benedictus, a gentle movement, if no more, before the return of the Osanna fugue.
The soloists have little solo work to do, the most extended piece being the duet for two tenors at "et incarnatus est", which later develops briefly into a trio, the soprano being added. Otherwise, they mainly sing as a quartet. In short, no real demands are made of such excellent singers as we have here. The excellence of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields can be assumed. The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge, is its usual vigorous-toned, yet sensitive self. It is good to have one record of this last of Schubert's Masses, especially in such a well-directed performance and very good quality of recording.
-- Gramophone [11/1975]
Works on This Recording
Mass no 6 in E flat major, D 950 by Franz Schubert
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields,
Cambridge St. John's College Choir
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria
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