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Schubert: Mass In A Flat Major, D678 "missa Solemnis"; Mass In E Flat Major, D950 "missa Solemnis"

Schubert / Chamber Orch Of Europe / Harnoncourt
Release Date: 06/14/2011 
Label:  Apex   Catalog #: 4674302   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  Luba OrgonasovaBirgit RemmertDeon Van der WaltAnton Scharinger,   ... 
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of EuropeArnold Schoenberg Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

I came completely blind to these two works, the only large-scale masses Schubert wrote, in the hope that I would find in them the same emotional directness, melodic invention and combination of grandeur and pathos that I experience when listening to Schubert’s greatest music. As it turns out, I’m afraid I cannot quite share Harnoncourt’s enthusiasm for the earlier of these two works, the Mass in A flat of 1822, which strikes me as amongst the least inspired and least inspiring music that Schubert ever wrote. That is not to say that there are not striking and beautiful moments here, but by and large they are really rather “tame” by comparison with the liturgical music of Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven – or indeed the later Mass in E flat. Some Read more of this has to do with the slightly distant acoustic of these live recordings, whereby the orchestra is very recessed compared with the voices, presumably the result of Harnoncourt’s evident desire to underline the weightiness of what is ultimately often very conventional writing. He emphasises a polished beauty of line and the contribution of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is thus less vigorous and spicy than one might have wished.

The most original aspect of the earlier mass D678 is the prominence Schubert gives to the brass in an orchestra without flutes, according to the Viennese tradition, often introducing what sounds almost like hunting motifs. He also rather relies on repeated, chordal, punctuational figures for the brass which can sound gauche and over-emphatic. The Kyrie meanders somewhat, which could be said of quite a lot of this music. The over-long Gloria trundles along. The Credo begins with a bold, impressive brass fanfare followed by a slightly unconvincing fugue. Orgonasova notably soars both here and in the later mass, while the other soloists are competent, although I do not much care for Deon van der Walt’s falsetto-biased tenor or the weak bass.

There is much more to enjoy in the D950 from 1828 and first performed posthumously. The most striking innovation here is Schubert’s typically Romantic use of modulations, whereby the music suddenly takes unexpected directions. The opening of the Kyrie, with its warm blend of wind instruments, immediately signals a higher level of creativity and artistry than the D678 and the trio “Et incarnatus est” for soprano and two tenors in the Credo is sublime. The subsequent fugue and the one in the Agnus Dei are both much more assured. Perhaps one of the reasons for the comparative neglect of what many consider to be yet another of the masterpieces written by Schubert in his final year is the four-square nature of the Agnus Dei. It rather fades out without offering much of a consolatory nature – probably reflecting Schubert’s own unorthodox and wavering faith.

The Arnold Schoenberg Chor live up to their reputation as consummate professionals. Although the recording is live, you would scarcely know it from any audience noise, although the distanced orchestra mentioned above and a lack of definition in the sound might tip you off. I don’t think I will much listen to the earlier Mass, but the later work is a gem.



-- Ralph Moore, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Mass no 5 in A flat major, D 678 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Luba Orgonasova (Soprano), Birgit Remmert (Alto), Deon Van der Walt (Tenor),
Anton Scharinger (Bass)
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of Europe,  Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1822; Vienna, Austria 
Language: Latin 
2.
Mass no 6 in E flat major, D 950 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Luba Orgonasova (Soprano), Birgit Remmert (Alto), Deon Van der Walt (Tenor),
Wolfgang Holzmair (Baritone), Anton Scharinger (Bass)
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of Europe,  Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1828; Vienna, Austria 
Language: Latin 

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