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Gounod, Bizet: St. Cecilia Mass / Zobeley, Munich Motet Choir

Release Date: 01/17/2006 
Label:  Profil   Catalog #: 5028   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Charles GounodGeorges Bizet
Performer:  Dietrich HenschelAngela Maria BlasiChristian Elsner
Conductor:  Hans Rudolf Zöbeley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Motet ChoirMunich Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Charles Gounod is known principally for his operas; however, he also wrote a number of religious works, including 16 settings of the Mass. The Messe solennelle de Sainte-Cécile (St. Cecilia Mass) is generally considered his finest work in this genre. It was composed in 1855, four years before Faust. Even Berlioz, who often expressed his disdain for French music, described it as “a very fine mass.” It is a very fine mass, with one beautiful melody after another. Although there are three soloists, it is primarily a choral work; the interaction between the soloists and chorus is reminiscent of scenes in an opera. Indeed, much of the music has a theatrical flamboyance, much like the masses composed by other composers (Rossini, Verdi, et Read more alia) who wrote for the stage.

The Profil recording is in six sections: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei. An EMI recording with Pilar Lorengar, Heinz Hoppe, Franz Crass, and Jean-Claude Hartemann conducting also includes an offertory and concluding Domine salvum. This wonderful music (St. Cecilia is the patron saint of church music) is given a sumptuous performance on this Profil (edition Günter Hänssler) album. The soloists have beautiful, expressive voices. Angela Maria Blasi’s lovely warm, lyric soprano displays a shimmering, clear top and a rich creamy lower range. (A side note: she began her career as Evita in Webber’s musical.) The two men, tenor Christian Elsner and bass-baritone Dietrich Henschel, have, in addition to opera, specialized in Lied (both studied under Fischer-Dieskau), and bring an engaging sensitivity to this recording. All of their voices blend well. The Münchner MotettenChor, a first-rate choir, full-bodied and vibrant, steals the show. The booklet tells us that this is a “Live Recording”; but the audience is silent and applause is not recorded.

The program is completed by the inclusion of Bizet’s Te Deum. Bizet did not share Gounod’s interest in religion and did not respect the Latin text to any great degree. He omitted material and rearranged the order of some of the verses. He gave the Sanctus some splashy choral fireworks, which he apparently felt made a more impressive musical effect if he moved the text from its traditional location. Bizet was either unfamiliar with the cadence of Latin phrases or he came up with music he liked and forced the lyrics to fit the melody, but it has been pointed out that some words are musically stressed on the wrong syllables. Unless you’re a Latin scholar, you may not be aware of this linguistic faux pas, and it need not deter you from enjoying Bizet’s ear-pleasing melodies. The Te Deum frequently sounds like it was written by someone who would rather be writing an opera, and much of the music would be at home in the opera house. The Tu Rex gloriae is an especially catchy tune.

The booklet that accompanies this recording provides some interesting notes in German and English, but the biographical notes are only in German. The texts of the two musical works are only in Latin. The text for the Te Deum is written in its usual order, not Bizet’s rearranged order. It’s a bit hard to follow.

This is a lovely, lovely recording. The sound is clear and warm and compliments the sincere, moving performances. Conductor Hans Rudolf Zöbeley, the soloists, the choir, and the Münchner Symphoniker must have loved this music. Just listen to the Benedictus (track 5); it will melt the coldest heart.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk
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Works on This Recording

Messe solennelle de Sainte Cécile by Charles Gounod
Performer:  Dietrich Henschel (Baritone), Angela Maria Blasi (Soprano), Christian Elsner (Tenor)
Conductor:  Hans Rudolf Zöbeley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Motet Choir,  Munich Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855; France 
Date of Recording: 03/1996 
Venue:  Live  Herkules-Saal, Munich, Germany 
Te Deum by Georges Bizet
Performer:  Dietrich Henschel (Baritone), Angela Maria Blasi (Soprano), Christian Elsner (Tenor)
Conductor:  Hans Rudolf Zöbeley
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Munich Motet Choir,  Munich Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1858; France 
Date of Recording: 03/1996 
Venue:  Live  Herkules-Saal, Munich, Germany 

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