Mozart Mass, K427
A modern version of the great C minor Mass for around a fiver may seem a tempting proposition, especially given the lack of competition in this price range. And anyone coming to this, Mozart’s most monumental and eclectic work, for the first time should get a fair idea of the terrain here. That said, though, this new recording, made at a concert in Padua, rarely rises above routine. Essential ingredients for success in this work include a disciplined, firm-toned and agile choir equal to Mozart’s taxing choral writing, and two soprano soloists with the allure and coloratura technique to cope with the fearsome demands of the arias and ensembles. The Athestis Chorus sings with a will, but is all too often tested, especially in the double choruses: the ‘Qui tollis’, for instance, mercilessly exposes the sopranos’ frailty of tone and insecurity of pitch; and the potentially thrilling ‘Osanna’ fugue is tepid, the complex polyphony often ill-defined – though the balance, which consistently favours the orchestra, must take some of the blame here.
Of the soprano soloists Lynda Russell, despite a slight edge to her tone, is an assured stylist and phrases tenderly in the ‘Et incarnatus est’; Mila Vilotijevic, on the other hand, is technically fallible and too often out of tune when the going gets tough – her top B flat and A at the climax of ‘Domine Deus’ (2'25''), in particular, had me flinching. The orchestral response under the experienced baton of Peter Maag is decent enough, though tempos in the faster numbers tend to be on the cautious side and rhythms – as in the Gloria and the ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ fugue – can plod. So unless cash flow is at crisis level, I strongly suggest you fork out an extra few pounds and acquire the mid-price 1979 Marriner recording or, even better, the full-price versions by Abbado or, using period instruments, Gardiner or Hogwood.'