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Bruckner • Stravinsky: Masses

Berlin Radio Choir; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gijs Leenaars (Pentatone)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
CD_PTC5186774_Bruckner

Bruckner • Stravinsky
Bruckner: Mass No. 2 in E minor; Stravinsky: Mass
Berlin Radio Choir; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gijs Leenaars
Pentatone PTC 5186 774   53:10 mins

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It’s a splendid coupling: these are the two most original mass-settings since Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, both making strikingly un-Romantic use of a wind ensemble. The Berlin Radio Choir are thoroughbreds, and to hear them tackling Bruckner’s high soprano writing and sustained fortissimo declamations, to say nothing of Stravinsky’s ear-testing harmonic twists, is to marvel that it can be all brought off with so little apparent effort. Not only so, but director Gijs Leenaars, his singers and his musicians, all have a remarkably strong sense of line. You’re never in any doubt about where the music is going. The superb opening crescendo of Bruckner’s Sanctus, the sinuous polyphony of Stravinsky’s Gloria, both seem to emerge in one beautifully controlled phrase. When it comes to structural and technical command this beats just about all the rivals I can think of.

I like the contained expression too – most of the time. Yes, grand operatic emoting would ruin both these pieces, but there have been performances of Bruckner’s Agnus Dei that convey more awe and pathos, and renditions of Stravinsky’s Credo with more delicate rhythmic bounce. Nor does it feel quite right that Bruckner’s exquisite twofold genuflection to the Blessed Virgin in his Credo should flow by so smoothly. The recordings are very good in terms of atmosphere and clarity, but the perspective on the wind instruments feels slightly more intimate than that on the singers which, once you’ve noticed it, is a tiny bit distracting. If anything, shouldn’t it be the other way around?

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Stephen Johnson