Mozart Great Mass, K427

Author: 
Stanley Sadie

Mozart Great Mass, K427

  • Mass No. 18, 'Great'
  • Mass No. 18, 'Great'

Writers on Mozart sometimes take him to task for the alleged mixture of style in the C minor Mass, in particular the use of florid, 'operatic' solo writing amidst all the severe ecclesiastical counter-point. To object is in fact to misunderstand the nature of Mozart's religion, but it takes a performance as stylistically accomplished as this one to make the point in practice. The usual stumbling-block is the ''Et incarnatus'', with its richly embellished solo line and its wind obbligatos. Sung as it is here, by Sylvia M c Nair, beautifully refined in detail, it is indeed passionate, but passionately devout, expressive of wonderment at the incarnation in terms as vivid as Mozart thought fit for any other expression of profound emotion. This particular movement—in which, by the way, John Eliot Gardiner has made some distinct improvements (compared with the usual text) in the completion of Mozart's unfinished accompaniments—is the heart of the work. The rest is no less impressive. M c Nair is deeply affecting in the ''Christe'', taken quite spaciously (her initial entry is exquisite) and set in a measured Kyrie of great cumulative power which also has some fine, clean singing from the Monteverdi Choir. As with Gardiner's recent version of the Requiem (Philips 420 197-1PH; (CD) 420 197-2PH, 11/87), one might wish for the sound of a boys' choir (why go to the trouble of having authentic instruments if you then use unauthentic voices?) but the bright, forward tone of his sopranos is certainly very persuasive. The music is all strongly characterized: the ''Gloria'' jubilant, the ''Qui tollis'' grandly elegiac with its solemn, inexorable march rhythm and its dying phrases echoed between the choirs, the ''Credo'' full of vitality. I thought some of the ''Cum sancto spiritu'' fugue too heavily accented. Diana Montague sings the second soprano music with her usual clarity and definition of line.
This version seems to me superior in almost every respect to the others cited above. Karajan's smooth surface irons out much of the diversity of feeling in the music (DG), and Harnoncourt's reading (Teldec), though it has strong and thoughtful things in it, often seems unnaturally striving for effect. The new record seems to me one of the best that Gardiner has made for a long time and may be confidently recommended.'

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