SCHUBERT: Mass in E-flat Major, D. 950; MOZART: Vesperae solomnes de Confessore, K. 339 – Genia Kuehmeier, soprano/Christa Mayer, alto/Timothy Robinson and Oliver Ringelhahn, tenors/ Matthew Rose, bass/State Opera Choir & Dresden Staatskapelle/Sir Charles Mackerras – Carus 83.249, 76:45 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Schubert’s 1828 Mass No. 6 in E-flat stands among the great romantic religious works; and though scored without flutes, it manages a bright, optimistic tone because of the opulent, soaring lyricism and harmonic color–the oboes at the top of their register–of the composer’s musical imagination. The choir does the majority of the work, though there are parts for five soloists. Schubert’s mastery of counterpoint proves no less compelling, well transcending the academic exercises he underwent to “improve” his technique. The lyricism of the writing, often involving a punishing tessitura–as in the lovely Gloria–bursts forth in fluent song, as in the cello line of the Gloria. No less evident are Schubert’s dark thoughts–his tendency to gravitate to B Minor–as in the Sanctus; but we sense an angry God in Domine Deus as well, at least until the “Miserere nobis,” which conveys a stormy heaven-sent forgiveness. The Quoniam tu solus Sanctus breaks into a terrific fugue, dark, pungent, even militant. Brahms likely knew this section for the latter section of his “All Flesh is like Grass” from A German Requiem.
Mackerras maintains a fine balance between the somber, rather academically austere aspects of Schubert’s massive textures and the clear, even transparent, quality of light that shines through the thick instrumentation, as in the final fugue of the Credo. Though not specifically demanded in the score, Mackerras uses a small organ in the continuo. At one point in the brass playing of the Cum Sancto Spiritu, we can hear elements of Renaissance motet-style. The Sanctus, despite its relative brevity, rivals the power of Beethoven for concerted energy, the rhythm close to Death and the Maiden or Beethoven‘s Seventh Symphony. The opening of Et incarnatus est employs a melody close to the Rosamunde Overture, urging the tenors and soprano to mix an abundance of sensuous colors. The dire words, “Crucifixus etiam pro nobis,” invoke remarkable harmonic progressions that lead to a da capo on Christ’s incarnation from the Virgin Mary’s Holy Spirit. Unaccredited, the tympani player of the Staatskapelle Dresden deserves notice for his consistent energetic contribution. The woodwind writing for Et resurrexit tertia dei might have fueled the majority of Dvorak symphonies. The last three sections–with the exception of tremolos in the Agnus Dei–exhibit little existential anxiety of the afterlife, but rather a staid, resolute conviction in Divine Mercy.
Sir Charles Mackerras chose the Mozart 1780 Solemn Vespers because of its scarcity in the concert hall. Typical of Mozart, much of the brisk writing is for coloratura operatic principals. The Laudate pueri, by contrast, displays Mozart’s strict counterpoint, likely more to the taste of the ever-critical Salzburg Prince Archbishop Colloredo. Set as five psalms and a concluding Magnificat, the work survives popularly almost entirely because of the wonderful Laudate Dominum fifth psalm, intoned here by Genia Kuehlmeier and chorus. I must say that bass Matthew Rose several times impressed me with the grand dark hue of his low register. Sir Charles keeps the musical motion active, fluent, eminently spirited. Along with my classic renditions from Jascha Horenstein and Joseph Keilberth, this lovely realization is a keeper.
Both works, recorded 26 April 2008 at the Frauenkirche Dresden, make a tasteful aurally rich testament for Sir Charles Mackerras’ debut with the Staatskapelle Dresden.