Schubert masses

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Schubert masses

One of my collecting quirks is that I'm always looking for treasure in the refuse. Finding good or great things that have been overlooked or prematurely dismissed is a fine if lonely pleasure. Often the worst thing that can happen to a work is that it be given a "good enough" performance, well enough played and recorded to be considered acceptable, but lacking the spark or understanding that could communicate the work's essential virtues. God help the obscure composer if these mediocre efforts are taken by critics to be "reference" recordings.

 

Schubert is not so obscure, of course. But like Mozart he wrote so much that only a small proportion of his work could be called "canonical". The major choral works have been recorded a few times but their reputation is not great. I have EMI's 11 CD box set of Sawallisch's recordings, and am probably not alone in being underwhelmed. It might possibly be the works, but my overall impression from these recordings is of ponderous lethargy, a quality I had not previously associated with Schubert.

 

So I am wondering - has some other listener wandered these byways before me, and heard the other recordings? I have little interest in the aggressive approaches of Harnoncourt and Weil, but there is a set of the masses on Capriccio (not to be confused with the single SACD) conducted by Robev, Knothe and Creed, and a compilation of recordings on Brilliant. It would be especially valuable if someone was in a position to weigh and compare the modern instrument recordings, and offer some sort of judgement.

 

Thanks. I am not optimistic - but I am hopeful!

 

 

http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2004/Feb04/Schubert_Masses_Brilliant.htm 

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

I'm in a similar position....

I'm in a similar position.......I'm not very keen on the Sawallisch recordings, either. But neither have I made much of an effort at getting to know the masses through other recordings. I keep meaning to do this, then get sidetracked by something else. 

If only there was someone out there who had an encyclopedic knowledge of Western classical music; someone who knew (and owned) every single CD ever released and who knew each of these well enough to be able to offer a succinct and authoratitive review...........oh, well. It is too much to ask.........

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Thanks the deity for youtube! The reputable Leinsdorf is nowhere to be found, but I've listened to Rilling's D950, and then Behrmann's D678.

Rilling [Hanssler/Brilliant] was better than I recall Sawallisch being, but not quite there. Tempos were occasionally a bit sluggish (e.g. the Kyrie) and the ensemble didn't seem as polished as I would like.

Behrmann [Vox] I enjoyed at first. Very much an old-world performance, but without the bloat that implies. I even (guiltily) enjoyed the alto, with her tremulous vibrato and overly-dramatic inflections - something delicious about it! But - oh dear, someone should have been kicked out of the tenors, or at least moved away from the microphone. The various ensemble niggles did become wearying after a while. A shame.

A bit of archeology on Amazon reveals few complete cycles of the masses. Apart from Sawallisch:

-Capriccio's set conducted by Robev.
-Behrmann's set on Vox.
-Brilliant's collection including 5 and 6 with Rilling, the rest the Virtuosi di Praga and various conductors.

There also hints of a couple of vanished surveys: an earlier one for Capriccio, conducted by Haselbock (possibly with Marcus Creed), and another for Berlin Classics (I've seen recordings with Kegel and Bernius).

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

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For Robev, I could only find the Kyrie of the 1st mass. Not awful, but the soprano was too operatic for my tastes, and the orchestra was both overlarge and a bit distant.

After this I chanced upon Mass No. 1 with Virtuosi de Praga & Prague Chamber Choir conducted by Weiser, as included in the Brilliant box, but originally on Koch. This is the best so far. The singers are a little forward for my taste, but the smaller forces give the music some much needed lightness. If this group recorded the last two masses, I think Brilliant should have used them instead of Rilling.
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I couldn't find any Schubert conducted by Haselbock, only the same forces doing Mozart's cantata "Laut Verkünde Unsre Freude". It's HIP but listenable, great sound, beautiful singing, a fine performance. However, it seems his Schubert masses were done with a boys choir, which is a turn-off.

(While looking for Heselbock performances, I accidentally discovered the composer Hugo Distler, who took his life in 1942.)

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

Schubert's Choral Works.

Eyeresist, the Schubert's Choral Works are a bit uneven Opus and, thus, complete recordings cannot be that good or convincing enough. However, the Sawallisch's one is a sort of "reference" because of the "dream teams" of both the vocal and the orchestral forces involved. I think the problem lies in the recording and particularly the CD bargain reissue. I used to have some of these recordings in LP and they sounded impressively enough. Newton has reissue the last two big Masses, hopefully in better sound. The Capricccio set is much inferior and the Brilliant one constitutes a pastiche of recordings from here and there.

So, I would suggest that a selective collection of the three major Masses would be more rewarding than a complete set that works only if you wish to explore the...whole thing in Choral Music by Schubert.

The three major Masses are : a) the Deutsche Mass, D.872 and the last two in A flat, D.678, and in E flat, D.950.

-For the Deutsche Mass, I still prefer the Sawallisch for the vocal parts (Popp, Fischer-Dieskau. Possibly, the Georg Ratzinger recording on Ars Musici with the Regensburger Cathedral Choir could work better for you. The recording is better somehow.

- The A flat is my favourite one for its excellent balance of sublimity and divine passion. Harnoncourt does not sound aggressive, at least in my equipment. He delivers, with an magnificent cast (Orgonasova, Holzmair etc.), brilliantly the basic elements of the work. Beringer (on Sony) and Schreier (on Ondine) have some beautiful voices (Ziesak and Isokosi, Groop on both recordings etc.). Haselbock, on Capriccio and in SACD format, is the most impressively recorded version but not the most rewarding vocally and in delivering the spiritual character of the work.

- The E flat Mass is a monumental work second to none. It needs some massive forces for a very traditional almost Romantic approach. Despite it has not been recorded that often, there are some superb recordings to suggest for further listening: Abbado, on DG, with VPO and an all-star cast (Mattila, Lipovsek, Hadley, Holl), in a very impressive recording. Hickox is more balanced between the Classic and Romantic approach of the work, with excellent soloists too (Gritton, Padmore, Rose). Audite has restored, in SACD format, a very fine recording from 1968 with Janowitz, Hoffmann, Kment and Crass under the baton of Kubelik. There is also the intriguing and emotional rendering of Mackerras from a recording directly from the Frauenkirche of Dresden, on Carus.

I hope the above might be of some help to explore further these three truly great works of Choral Music by Schubert.

Parla

 

Parla,

Parla,

Huh? I thought you were going to stay away until the thread had reached the end of the second page?

So, here's a deal: If any member of this forum wishes to initiate a thread on a musical subject, I won't intervene till the thread reaches the end of the second page (nearly 30 posts) and, then, only if I deem it necessary. Let's see how the forum may be rejuvenated and whether it is Parla the (only, main, a) reason of forum's current situation.

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Can we please stick to talking about Schubert?

Parla, thanks for your response. I'm afraid I just have an aversion to the Sawallisch recordings. This High Victorian crushed-velvet grandeur has nothing to do with Schubert - my Schubert - who is genial and unpretentious (and possibly the only great composer who was completely sane!). These recordings mind me of the notorious Messiah fests of the 19th century, an inflationary approach which was questionable to say the least, though still now regarded with some sentimental fondness. Handel's work, of course, is a varied series of short, tune-filled numbers, which helps it survive, but as you say, these are not Schubert's strongest works, and the inevitable sogginess which results from this approach does for the works by eradicating Schubert's essential qualities.

This, at least, is one route of thought I have tried, to explain why I don't much like the works and why they aren't very popular!  I cannot admit, at least at this stage, that they are simply duds.

Thinking back on the recordings I reviewed, I think I was probably a bit harsh on Rilling, and on the other hand a bit uncritical in my enthusiasm for the Koch recordings. Overall I still think they are among the top versions I've encountered, so the Brilliant box is on my wishlist.

You'll be glad to hear I am also going to be seeking the Abbado recording of D950 - the snippets I've heard sound very impressive. (And going at least by the cover photo it was a chamber-size performance, even if it was the WP)
I'll also keep an eye out for Schreier & Beringer's 678s, and Mackerras's 950 - thanks for letting me know about these.

P.S. I can't agree with you regarding the Deutsche Mass - I've tried two recordings (Sawallisch and Harrer) and didn't make it to the end of either one. It's just unbearably inane. Or this may be the best instance of a work for which a smaller, more naive performance might be truer to the piece.

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

Thanks, eyeresist, for taking

Thanks, eyeresist, for taking the essence of my post and nothing else.

Of course, when one goes to performances, his/her own perception of the composer and his works can lead him/her to recordings that maybe the majority of experts may disagree. If the Brilliant box suits you, so be it.

The Deutsche Mass is a very individual work, almost unique in its nature, form and development. It is not an impressive work anyway. Its almost intimate character needs a careful approach from both the performers and the listener.

All the best in your quest in these great and delightful works by Schubert.

Parla

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parla wrote:

Of course, when one goes to performances, his/her own perception of the composer and his works can lead him/her to recordings that maybe the majority of experts may disagree. If the Brilliant box suits you, so be it.

The majority of experts? There's a leading phrase! It's ultimately a matter of personal taste, and I have learned to my cost (literally, a lot of money) that I should not trust the consensus opinion on anything.

 

If you have the time and haven't done so already, do sample Weiser's recording of the earliest mass. You may find it refreshing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0ehtzMY01c

 

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

parla wrote:

parla wrote:

However, the Sawallisch's one is a sort of "reference" because of the "dream teams" of both the vocal and the orchestral forces involved. I think the problem lies in the recording and particularly the CD bargain reissue. I used to have some of these recordings in LP and they sounded impressively enough. Newton has reissue the last two big Masses, hopefully in better sound.

Sorry I didn't address this earlier. I did listen to Sawallisch again the other night (I think the CD with masses 4 and 5) and was unhappy with the sound, especially the lack of bottom end. Presumably there were double basses playing, but even with my stereo's bass boosted (sadly I no longer have a multi-band equaliser), they made no impact at all. I don't know how hi-fi purists would feel about it, but I think an adjustment of the tonal profile to bring it in line with modern naturalistic recordings might be a good thing.

'Art doesn't need philosophers. It just needs to communicate from soul to soul.' Alejandro Jodorowsky

I think you start realising

I think you start realising that recordings do not represent what exactly the performers  provide but what the production team and the label concerned managed to create as a final product. Sawallisch, in the respective LPs, sounded very fine to my system (at that time), with good sound, including the bottom end.

The Weiser's recording might be "refreshing", but for a work which is not that demanding or mature.

Anyway, if it works for you (despite Youtube cannot be considered as a safe means to consider any performance), that's the way it is.

Parla

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