This new recording of Mozart’s ever-popular Coronation Mass appears shortly after one from Tewkesbury Abbey (Delphian, 1/12). Both recordings feature boys on the top choral line and a period-instrument band but St John’s features all adult soloists rather than the boy treble of Tewkesbury’s offering. It’s good to hear the less often performed F major Missa brevis of 1774, perhaps the finest of these small-scale Salzburg Masses (with its intriguing Credo using as a main motif the four-note theme of the finale of the Jupiter Symphony of 14 years later). Out go the festive oboes, horns, trumpets and drums of the later Mass (composed for Easter celebrations), leaving the ‘Salzburg church trio’ of a pair of violins with basso continuo underpinning the voices. The St John’s boys are in fine voice, surer and more secure than Tewkesbury. St John’s Sinfonia, led by the college’s musician-in-residence Margaret Faultless, offer transparent accompaniment, with Mozart’s ingenious horn parts particularly audible.
It’s good, too, to hear a pair of epistle sonatas, works composed to cover the ‘scene changes’ of the liturgy. Of the two, the later sonata (in F) particularly demonstrates Mozart’s ear for adventurous harmony (even in so compact a design) and for sonority, with its bell-like cascading violin figures. Of the makeweights, the ubiquitous Ave verum corpus is taken, as so often, at half-speed, and Susan Gritton has the last word, rather than the St John’s choir, with the showcase motet Exsultate, jubilate. For the Coronation Mass, the new disc trumps Tewkesbury; while if you wish to explore Mozart’s earlier Masses and don’t have sets by, for example, Peter Neumann or Nikolaus Harnoncourt, this new F major is an ideal place to start.