MOZART: Mass in C; Masonic Funeral Music – Le Concert d’Astree/ Louis Langree, Conductor/ Natalie Dessay, Veronique Gens, sopranos/ Topi Lehtipuu, tenor/ Luca Pisaroni, bass – Virgin Classics

by | Nov 17, 2006 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MOZART: Mass in C; Masonic Funeral Music – Le Concert d’Astree/ Louis Langree, Conductor/ Natalie Dessay, Veronique Gens, sopranos/ Topi Lehtipuu, tenor/ Luca Pisaroni, bass – Virgin Classics 00946 359309 2 4, 53:17 ***:

Levin, Robbins Landon, Maunder, and at least three others have attempted to “finish” Mozart’s monumental Mass in C Minor, with varying results. None is entirely satisfactory or convincing, so conductor Louis Langree decided to have a go at it as well. And why not? The piece certainly seems indestructible, and the causal listener will rarely notice any changes at all. Perhaps what I hear a little more of in this version are the trombones, forcefully present in places that seem to deserve it, and the effect is thrilling. Mozart left them out of his sketches, but there is no question that he would have utilized them had he completed the work. In this recording Langree is using Emmanuelle Haim’s period band Le Concert d’Astree and they play with spirit and energy, and a nicely warm style not always present in period performances. The choral work is perhaps a bit raw, not as refined as Christopher Hogwood’s Westminster Choir (with boys), or as polished and balanced as Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir.

The soloists, led by the up and coming superstars Natalie Dessay and Veronique Gens are technically fine, though I detect more of a sense of competent run- through than any real inspiration. Both sound as if they need to spend more time with the work. Neither approaches the late Arleen Auger on Hogwood’s CD. Overall the account is somewhat harried and frenzied, with lack of repose and reflection so needed in this work, though Langree certainly has his big moments. The sound is immense and enveloping, though the tempos taken for some of the soprano duos are such that the detail of their turns and articulation gets lost in the aural swish. Though there are problems here, I have to say that this reading is about as good as any period instrument performance available, and that means especially Gardiner and Hogwood, the two best until now. It is certainly exciting in many places, assuming that excitement is what you are looking for in a mass.

In this work (and unlike the Requiem) the preferred performances are all on modern instruments. There is nothing in this or any of the period recordings that begin to approach the subtleties and interpretative beauties of Karajan, Bernstein, Leppard, Marriner, Shaw, or Abbado. But if you have to have original instruments, this release will prove more than satisfying. The  exquisitely rendered Masonic Funeral Music makes a fine filler.

— Steven Ritter     
 

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