Notes and Editorial Reviews
Mass in C,
“Così fan tutte.”
Symphony No. 41,
March in C,
Franz Raml, cond; Siri Thornhill (sop); Ursula Eittinger (alt); Hubert Nettinger (ten); Stefan Geyer (bass); German Mozart O (period instruments)
OEHMS 916 (74:24)
Just when you think you know everything about a composer,
something strange and frustratingly abstruse comes your way. I mean, while I am no end-game Mozart expert, I certainly thought I knew about most of his sacred choral music, both verified and attributed. But then along comes this oddball composition by our old favorite Anonymous, nothing short of a genuine “parody” mass based on that most frivolous of operas,
Così fan tutte.
I say “frivolous” with great respect, considering the plot to be rather hard to swallow, the miraculous elements of this story being found in the details of character relationships rather than in the grosser, more overarching story line. But if we examine this mass in light of true parody, not the more common understanding of “making fun of,” we see what a tribute the work really is to the great master.
Some history first. This piece was created around 1800, the remnants being deposited in the Berlin State Library, Florence Conservatory, and the Mönchsroth Monastery archive, whose last abbot (Nikolaus Betscher) possessed a copy of the parts with instruments, and was a friend of Michael Haydn, perhaps even his student. There are no other works of Mozart’s to be found in any archives in the nearby region, nor are there any indications as to who the author is. The long established practice of parody, or taking secular songs and placing sacred texts to them is both ancient and honorable; Dufay, Lasso, Hassler, and Bach (among many) are just a few of the men who engaged in this legitimate compositional practice. Mozart himself, in his great Mass in C Minor, engaged in parody work, though by his time the technique had largely died out.
This work is extremely tasteful, albeit perhaps a little disconcerting, and the piece is not entirely composed of reworked Mozart, but Anonymous contributes some of his (her?) own stuff as well. One will hear “Dove son” from scene 15 of the first act in the Sanctus, for instance, while the “Christe Eleison” has about 50 measures of “Ah guarda sorella,” also from act I. But then the Gloria and most of the Credo is new material. All in all, the notes tell us that there are about 91 pages of Mozart to 42 by the composer/arranger. This is a worthwhile piece of music, and should give pleasure to those who love
. I should also mention that this is sung one-to-a-part, and as far as I can ascertain, not from any specific instructions but from the assumption that this was intended as a “cantata” Mass, and not for full forces. I will disagree with this assessment, and think the work would have been better served by using a more substantial choir, though all concerned here perform admirably.
With the “Jupiter” we enter into a completely different world, one that has seen classic recordings come and go for years. This one is not bad; there are no indications of undue period-instrument dogmatic infection, and the orchestra plays very well. But let’s be honest; is this going to unseat any of a host of favorites? No. Bernstein, Beecham, the recent Mackerras, and any number of others will not be displaced by this one. Perhaps it is fairer to compare it to the issue on Harmonia Mundi by René Jacobs and company. Brian Robins (
30: 6) called it “flawed” but “still one of the most commanding period performances yet.” Not in my book. The strings are far thinner than what we have here, and though I admire to no end Jacobs’s insistent willingness to jettison age-old period doctrine and take some interpretative risks, too much seems willful and out-of-character to consider his “Jupiter” more than a curiosity. This one at hand is much better, more interesting and full of life, and downright exciting in many places. The sound is maybe a little more congested than HM’s, and I won’t recommend this as any sort of benchmark performance, but if the Mass interests you, this makes for a fitting conclusion to an hour well spent. Not for everyone, but interesting nonetheless.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Works on This Recording
March in C major, K 408 no 3 (383F) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
German Mozart Orchestra
Written: 1782; Vienna, Austria
Così fan tutte, K 588: Excerpt(s) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Stefan Geyer (Bass),
Hubert Nettinger (Tenor),
Siri Thornhill (Soprano),
Ursula Eittinger (Mezzo Soprano)
German Mozart Orchestra
Written: 1790; Vienna, Austria
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