Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Personal and theatrical trump liturgical

I've been living with the perfect Bach sound of Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan for many years, during their supreme BIS series of Bach recordings, most especially the cantatas. Then it was time to switch to Mozart, with last year's excellent Requiem, and now this special recording of the Great Mass in C Minor, due to be released on December 9, 2016. As to the switch, there are no concerns from me; this is Mozart singing and playing of perfect taste and impeccable style. Indeed, Masaaki Suzuki has recently shown how adaptable and nimble he can be, with this spring's release of an excellent Stravinsky disc with the Tapiola Sinfonietta.

I always listen to Mozart of any genre through the lens of opera, and I like what I hear in the drama, and indeed the theatricality, of many passages in this performance. At this stage in his career, Mozart had recently completed Idomeneo, and was working on Die Entführung aus dem Serail. In other words, he was working through a process where the more formal opera seria was becoming more grounded in reality at the same time as flights of fancy were allowed to blossom in opera buffa. This loss of formal frameworks pays out as well in the fragmentary nature of the Mass, which is missing segments of key liturgical importance. This recording uses Franz Beyer's 1989 completion, based on Mozart's sketches for some of the missing music. It all sounds very much like Mozart, and, more to the point, very personal Mozart, considering the rationale for its first performance. This was a celebration of his recent marriage to Constanza, and it was Constanza who sang the very important soprano role in the first performance. Among the excellent group of solo voices here the soprano Carolyn Sampson stands out, as she did in the Requiem, and as needs she must in the Mass. Maestro Suzuki makes a very convincing case for theatrical and personal impulses trumping conventions of purely liturgical importance.

BIS fills up the disc with an equally convincing performance of the early work Exsultate, Jubilate, which is full of surface brilliance and sparkle. The entire package is very highly recommended.

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