FRANK MARTIN: Mass for Two Four-Part Mixed Choirs; KODALY: Missa Brevis for Mixed Choir and Organ; POULENC: 14 Litanies a la Vierge Noire – Max Hanft, organ/ Bavarian Radio Choir/ Peter Dijkstra – BR Classic Multichannel SACD 403571900500, 67:05 **** [Distr. by Naxos]:
If you’re in the mood for some quality meditation, I can hardly think of a better disc than this one. The Bavarian radio is putting out its own discs, and this one features its chorus. They are recorded at a very natural concert hall perspective, with quite a bit of distance from the stage. Some will not like this, as others deploy the efforts of London Records when they took the opposite path in their “Phase 4” recordings, closely miking every instrument and mixing it up in the control room during editing sessions. I find this quite refreshing, and the chorus is large enough to give us a hefty and robust sound. The center section listening angle works just fine here and the SACD is roomy and warmly flattering.
Litanies a La Vierge Noire is a twentieth-century setting of the prayer called the “Litany of Loreto”, referring to the Italian village to which, according to legend, the house of Joseph and Mary was miraculously transported from Nazareth. Poulenc, inspired by the black wooden statue of the Virgin Mary at the church in the Medieval hamlet of Rocamadour, France wrote music of great austerity and simplicity, quietly inviting the listener to depths of contemplation that were redolent of his own later-in-life religious conversion. Kodaly’s work is more romantic in nature, filled with darkened hues and wooden textures that only compliment the sound of the organ, put to good effect by the composer and Mr. Hanft, whose registrations are the ultimate in sensible and considered effects.
Frank Martin is a composer whose very name usually brings mystification to most listeners, not really knowing who he was. His Calvinist background assured him of writing music that was conceived in the utmost care. His use of tonal imagery and beautifully woven polyphonic episodes make this mass one that should have great appeal to even those who don’t necessarily take to some of his more astringent non-choral music. Martin’s harmonious conception is truly a wonder to behold here, and the ethereal singing of the Bavarians do it total justice. But no texts.
— Steven Ritter