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Liszt: Missa Choralis, Via Crucis / Sourisse, Audite Nova De Paris

Release Date: 01/31/2012 
Label:  Apex   Catalog #: 665858  
Composer:  Franz Liszt
Performer:  Marie-Claude AlaryMichel PiquemalMarie-Claire AlainDonna Brown,   ... 
Conductor:  Jean Sourisse
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Audite Nova Vocal Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

"The Via Crucis has a somewhat unusual structure. It is laid out in 15 brief movements (lasting a bit over 36 minutes in this recording), consisting of a prelude (the hymn Vexilla regis prodeunt ) and the 14 Stations of the Cross. However, the stations are not settings of verses from the Stabat Mater , as has become traditional. Instead, they consist of occasional verses from that hymn, brief excerpts from the Gospels, the German chorale hymns O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden (O Sacred Head Sore Wounded) and Read more O Traurigkeit (O Sorrow Deep), and the ancient Latin hymn Ave crux (Hail, O Cross). A solo tenor sings in Stations 1, 2, 8, and 12; female soloists sing in Stations 3, 7, and 9; the other soloists appear only briefly in Station 12. The choir sings in the introduction and Stations 3, 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 14. Stations 4, 5, 10, and 13 are meditations for solo keyboard. The mood throughout is appropriately subdued and somber.

As Rabinowitz has also rightly discussed in his extensive and valuable comments in his numerous reviews, there is a difficulty in comparing various recordings of the Via Crucis (by far Liszt’s most frequently recorded vocal and sacred composition) in that Liszt created multiple versions of the work. The keyboard accompaniment can be played on organ, piano, two pianos, or omitted; there is also at least one recording of a version arranged for two pianos with no chorus. Of the four versions recommended by Rabinowitz, the Philips and Hungaroton issues use a piano, and the Pierre Verany and Hyperion use an organ. I find a trade-off between the two; the organ version inherently creates a more ecclesiastical atmosphere, but the piano version is superior at bringing out the starkness and dissonance of Liszt’s harmonies in the keyboard part (see particularly Stations 7 and 8).

There is a good reason many of the reviews by Rabinowitz of this work have been negative; based on my own sampling of available recordings, most of them are decidedly poor, with sludgy, gloppy choral singing, imprecise ensemble, and lumbering, even elephantine, tempi. The present recording is an exception and immediately leaps to the forefront of recommended versions. Among its chief advantages is that the choral sections are sung by a smaller chamber choir rather than a full-sized ensemble, a decision I think is absolutely right for such intimate, meditative music. Both the choir and the various soloists sing with pure, crisp tone, appealing timbre, excellent diction, and sensitivity to the texts. The tempi are brisk rather than sodden, and having an organist of the stature of Marie-Claire Alain is luxury casting. While the lack of a libretto for the Via Crucis is a significant drawback, I was readily able to find it online.

The 30-minute-long Missa Choralis is sensitive, well crafted, and thoroughly within the bounds of traditional church music; only some rippling passages in the organ accompaniment to the Sanctus (the piece can also be sung a cappella ) suggest Liszt the composer of virtuoso piano works. In its generally cheerful outlook—the only extended minor-key passage is the central section of the Gloria—it reminds one of the Dvo?ák Mass. Also like the Dvo?ák, the soloists make only brief appearances—here, at the “Incarnatus” in the Credo and in the Agnus Dei. There is also the usual use of triplets and triple meters to signify the Trinity, for example in the final section of the Credo and then in the Sanctus and portions of the Agnus Dei. Finally, in yet another point of similarity to the Dvo?ák, the setting is one of only moderate difficulty and could be sung by many good parish choirs. Once again, the chorus, soloists, organist, and conductor offer a top-notch performance. The recorded sound for this work, as for the Via Crucis, is excellent. While there are several other fine recordings of the Missa Choralis available, its pairing here with a superior performance of the Via Crucis , which has been so poorly treated in the recording studio, makes this release exceptionally desirable. The direct competition consists of the Hyperion disc with Best and the Corydon Singers, and a Carus CD with Johannes Prinz and the Vienna Chamber Choir. I am less keen on the Hyperion release than are Rabinowitz and Martin Anderson (see his review in 24:3), finding it somewhat heavy in texture. (For that reason, I also take a more favorable view than does Rabinowitz of the lighter, more transparent performance by Laurence Equilbey and Accentus on the Naive label, and would choose that for a version of the Via Crucis with piano.) The Carus account is better, but still inferior to this one, which is now a prime choice and strongly recommended."

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Via crucis, S 53 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Marie-Claude Alary (Alto), Michel Piquemal (Baritone), Marie-Claire Alain (Organ),
Donna Brown (Soprano), Regis Oudot (Tenor)
Conductor:  Jean Sourisse
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Audite Nova Vocal Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1878-1879; Budapest, Hungary 
Missa Choralis, S 10 by Franz Liszt
Performer:  Regis Oudot (Tenor), Donna Brown (Soprano), Marie-Claire Alain (Organ),
Michel Piquemal (Baritone), Marie-Claude Alary (Alto)
Conductor:  Jean Sourisse
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Audite Nova Vocal Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1865; Rome, Italy 

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