In Gloria Dei Patris
This projects marks the 10th anniversary of an association between the Royal Academy of Music and Neresheim Abbey in Germany, a building that boasts splendid acoustics, a magnificent organ dating back to the 1790s, and a group of hospitable monks. All are on display in a programme devised by Patrick Russill to honour the RAM’s hosts, featuring music with significant local connections. Neither Mozart’s Salzburg nor the Munich of Lassus are far away, and both are represented by a Mass.
Lassus’s cycle, based on one of his double-choir motets, already exists in a superb performance by the Tallis Scholars. The RAM choir, 20 or so strong, is supplemented by an ensemble of cornetts and sackbuts. This works well, though certain details are clouded by the ambience, and the overall effect falls short of the Tallis Scholars’ account, which is to my mind one of their finest performances. But a Mass of this stature deserves multiple readings, and the RAM ensemble’s offers an attractive alternative. The wind ensemble is heard on its own in one of Schein’s most effective Pavans, but it misses a few tricks by omitting repeats of the second and third sections, and by passing up other opportunities for ornamentation elsewhere.
Mozart’s B flat Missa brevis, though a comparatively modest affair, is arguably more suited to the abbey’s acoustic than Lassus’s Mass. At any rate, the sound-image is to my ear more satisfying, the tricky balance between detail and the rather long reverberation being very well managed. But it is achieved at the expense of a certain separation between choir and instruments that sounds a touch excessive, and exposes problems in the ensemble. Not the most technically accomplished performance, perhaps, but (as with the Lassus) one with sufficient freshness and vitality to warrant a sympathetic ear.
Of course, a disc of this type cannot be judged on the basis of performances alone. I have commented on the acoustic, which imparts to the project a good deal of its character. It can be savoured to the full in the organ performances, especially the Froberger Elevation Toccata, in which the composer emulates his teacher Frescobaldi very convincingly. Kerll’s Magnificat alternates plainchant and organ, so affording a picture of the abbey’s residents at their prayers. And its bells, whose peals round off the disc, give a final touch of the genius loci. As a record of young musicians in a sympathetic environment, this yields rather more, in the end, than the sum of its parts.