MOZART: Mass in C, K 317, “Coronation”; Exultate, jubilate, K 165; HAYDN: Symphony No. 85 in B-flat, “La Reine” – Teresa Wakim, soprano/ Paula Murrihy, mezzo-soprano/ Thomas Cooley, tenor/ Sumner Thompson, baritone/ Handel and Haydn Society/ Harry Christophers – Coro 16104, 67:27 [Distr. by Allegro] (9/11/12) ***1/2:
Mozart wrote 16 settings of the mass, all from his Salzburg years. But he lived in an age of reform where both the Emperor Joseph II and his Prince-Archbishop in Salzburg were committed to keeping the music simple and the length of the mass at bay, requiring a time limit of no more than 45 minutes. This was a full mass however, so the musical selections needed to be short and to the point. How we can explain Mozart’s supposed wedding gift to Constanze, the brilliant and sublime Mass in C minor with these restrictions is hard to do—perhaps the time limit is why the composer elected to not finish the work. But in the end Mozart probably benefitted from the new restrictions as his church music became more compact, direct, and even popular in nature. It is also primarily through this music that the young composer was known in his early Salzburg years, so the compositions were quite important to him.
The K 317 work, known forever as the Coronation mass was one of the later works of the time, and was used frequently in the 1780s, Salieri himself conducting it in Prague at the coronation of Leopold II of Bohemia, and was performed at least twice more in regal settings involving coronations, hence the local title that came to be associated with it. Thought the piece is quite declamatory in nature it also contains movements that are worthy of some of Mozart’s better operatic moments as well, such as the Agnus Dei, and the ecstatic writing of the Credo is hardly equaled anywhere in the literature. The piece is also inundated with counterpoint, something Mozart always harkens back to when in a serious vein, yet the piece is no way somber or importunate but a joyful expression of a young man’s faith at a time when all seemed right with the world.
This reading features a chorus that is well-prepared and trained, though in general I don’t find the Handel and Haydn Society and slick and smooth as its English counterpoints—the U.S. seems to lag about ten years behind the UK in period instrument technical wizardry, but they are hardly a bad outfit, just a little more ragged and rugged in sound and execution. And the sound of the vaulted Symphony Hall in Boston is just not captured here as it is in other recordings—too boxy and close—though these are relative terms as I don’t find it offensive at all, just not Symphony Hall-like in general. Listen to Hogwood’s Academy of Ancient Music recording (using a boys’ choir) to see what a smoother and more refined period instrument group sounds like, though I do prefer Harry Christopher’s more devotional and spirited approach. But this won’t compete with the likes of Karajan’s live Vatican recording or Colin Davis with the LSO on Phillips.
But there is more; it might seem weird to include one of Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies on this disc based solely on the fact that the piece was a favorite of another monarch, Marie Antoinette of France, though it certainly fits stylistically in the program. But what I don’t get is why no period band has the sense to use the original forces that Haydn wanted and got when this symphony was given, and is even mentioned in the notes, for 40 violins and 10 double basses. Instead we get the usual scaled-down version, though Christophers plays it with a lot of panache.
The other filler on this disc is the ever-present Exultate, jubilate, written for the soprano castrato Venanzio Rauzzini from Mozart’s production of his opera Lucio Silla, seven years before the Coronation mass when the composer was only 16. It has become a very popular staple of the repertory and has been recorded by virtually every soprano who has ever lived and sung Mozart. Christophers, who has a reputation for bringing out homegrown talent includes it here to showcase a member of his choir, Teresa Wakim, who is starting to make a splash in many circles. Hers is certainly a fine rendition, and she has a lovely voice with beautiful tonal qualities.
Like I said, the sound is not Symphony Hall quality but is by no means inferior. If the program interests you it is recommendable even if not first choice.
A cascading sweep of keyboard miniatures