WORKS: Mass in C; Ah! perfido; Ne’ giorni tuoi felici; Tremate, empi, tremate
PERFORMER: Janice Watson (soprano), Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Gwynne Howell (bass) Corydon Singers, Corydon Orchestra/Matthew Best
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66830 DDD
Though overshadowed by the later Missa solemnis, the first of Beethoven’s two Masses (1807) remains a characteristically ambitious achievement. JohnPritchard’s live 1983 performance, with international soloists, is smooth and fluent, with the phrases lovingly shaped, though a certain lack of commitment to the music’s expressive power is occasionally felt. Completing the disc is Meredith Davies’s 1977 account of Mozart’s Coronation Mass (also live), which moves nicely but not always very neatly.
With a more detailed grasp of its structure, Matthew Best’s new studio performance helps the work register as more diverse yet equally more coherent. He utilises a smaller, choicer choir than Pritchard’s massed ranks. Their refinement of tone and keen appreciation of the text register positively, as does a more homogeneous quartet of soloists, amongst whom John Mark Ainsley makes a particularly strong impression. Gwynne Howell is the common factor to both performances, and arguably is in even better voice in the more recent one.
Best’s filler material includes a rather wan account of the early concert aria ‘Ah! perfido’ from Janice Watson, and two worthwhile rarities – a duet and a trio which originated in Beethoven’s studies with Antonio Salieri in the setting of Italian texts in 1801-2. George Hall