Bruckner: Mass No. 2 in E minor; Mass in C; O du liebes Jesu Kind; In jener letzten der Nächte

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Mass No. 2 in E minor; Mass in C; O du liebes Jesu Kind; In jener letzten der Nächte
PERFORMER: Ludmila Kuznetzova (mezzo-soprano), Ludmila Golub (organ); Russian State SO & Cappella/Valeri Polyansky
There is still a tendency to treat Bruckner’s three numbered Mass settings as ‘early’ Bruckner (even though he was 40 when he began No. 1) – preparatory studies before the real business of writing symphonies began. But as Valeri Polyansky and the Russian State Symphonic Cappella show, the E minor Mass is an utterly original creation, a sound-world like no other. The combination of sumptuous, lucid choral writing and austere wind-band accompaniment is distinctive enough. But what makes the Mass spiritually unique is the way it brings radiant Palestrina-like polyphony together with something darker, introspective and thoroughly Romantic. This is a performance with vision – a vision which alternately uplifts and disturbs; and somehow the spacious, foggy recording suits it very well. Technically too, the singing is remarkable – not absolutely perfect (the Kyrie and the Sanctus call for superhuman breath-control and intonation), but a degree or two more secure and powerful than that of the Corydon Singers under Matthew Best (the weakest link in their otherwise fine Hyperion Bruckner series). Apart from the doubtful ‘In jener letzten der Nächte’, the other works are genuinely early Bruckner – the Mass in C dates from his 18th year. While they’re bound to be of interest to the Bruckner specialist, there’s no need for anyone else to rush out and investigate; mezzo Ludmilla Kuznetsova sounds as though she’d have been a lot happier in a big, meaty Russian operatic role than in these very-late-Rococo miniatures, and she sounds strained in the higher reaches of the two motets. Still, highly recommended for the E minor Mass. Stephen Johnson