Mozart Mass, K427

Author: 
Stanley Sadie

Mozart Mass, K427

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

This new version of the C minor Mass seems to me one of the most impressive things Christopher Hogwood has done. Sometimes I have felt hesitant about using the word 'interpretation' for his performances, which have been apt to seem objective and lacking in emotional commitment. However, the grandeur and the elevated quality of the ''noble torso'' that is all Mozart wrote of the C minor Mass have apparently touched something deeper in Hogwood, and though the performance still bears the imprints of his approach it carries more expressive weight than usual. It begins with a steady and powerful Kyrie, monumental in feeling, dark in tone. The big choruses of the Gloria have plenty of energy, where that is called for—as in the ''Gloria in excelsis'', which has a fine drive to its rhythms, though it is not fast, and the closing ''Cum sancto spiritu'' fugue, excellently sustained—and sufficient of the sombre, too, as in the ''Qui tollis''. The Credo is lively, perhaps a shade pushed; the ''Osanna'' has a fine, energetic gait.
Hogwood uses a boys' choir, rightly I think, not simply because that is what Mozart took for granted but because the freshness and ring of boys' voices, and the extra clarity they impart to the textures, bring nothing but advantage. There is a splendid team of soloists, headed by Arleen Auger in excellent voice, full, warm and glowing—a tasteful, unaffected singer, she is surely the leading soprano in this repertory today. The broad, open phrasing in the ''Laudamus te'', with the leaps true and the semiquaver runs perfectly placed, is a delight; and the interplay of solo voices, with Lynne Dawson's more grainy one in the ''Domine Deus'', and in the ''Quoniam'' trio with the admirable tenor of John Mark Ainsley too, is always pleasing. The big solo number here, of course, is the ''Et incarnatus'', and here the music is somewhat different from usual because Hogwood uses a new edition by Richard Maunder which fills out the skeletal version left by Mozart rather more fully than do existing texts. Maunder's added horn parts take a little getting used to, but by and large are pretty persuasive; his sustained string writing at some points seems to me more questionable. Auger's singing, in any case, is beautiful; it is traditional to call this music 'operatic', but that is to my mind based on a misapprehension of style, and her reading of it seems to me deely expressive without in any way transgressing the proper limits of sacred music.
There is already, of course, an excellent version of this work with period instruments, under John Eliot Gardiner on Philips (the other, under Harnoncourt—Teldec—has good things too but seems to me to be constantly striving for effect rather than responding to the music). To choose between them is difficult and I should not care to be without both. Gardiner's is the more finely wrought, tidier in its detail, more selfconscious in its interpretation, more modern in its handling of instrumental sound, generally slightly slower in its tempos. I like particularly the spring of his rhythms in the ''Gloria in excelsis'' and the Credo. His top line is of course sung by women, but their attack and tone are as usual firm and clear. The ''Quoniam'' provides an instructive comparison: Hogwood energetic and clearly baroque-sounding (Mozart composed the work with earlier music very much in his mind), Gardiner the more graceful and urbane. Sylvia McNair, his soprano soloist, sings exquisitely. There are a few places where, after hearing Hogwood, Gardiner seems a shade precious; and if pressed I would probably prefer the new version, but only very marginally. The older recording is slightly the clearer in detail; the newer has perhaps more presence.'

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