Schubert: Mass in E flat, D950

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Mass in E flat, D950
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo soprano), Mark Padmore, James Gilchrist (tenor), Matthew Rose (bass); Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox.
This new recording fills a gap in the market – few period bands have tackled this late, great work, and it comes up gleaming in the care of Collegium Musicum 90 under Richard Hickox’s direction. The keenly-voiced woodwind and trombone colours point up so much of this finely nuanced score that it will be difficult to return to the smooth massivity of Carlo Maria Giulini’s New Philharmonia (on BBC Legends) or Wolfgang Sawallisch’s Brucknerian wallow with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (on EMI). Hickox’s soloists are superb, too – their ‘Et Incarnatus’ ensemble is sublime in its creamy lyricism, and the singers do not compete with each other for the limelight as Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s do. My only beef is the rather lacklustre choral contribution, which fails to surf atop the magnificent orchestral surge. Other recordings offer stronger interpretations – Giulini’s 1968 recording is either over-interpreted or winningly Italianate, depending on your viewpoint. Harnoncourt’s live 1997 recording with the Arnold Schoenberg Choir and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe probably hits the happiest midpoint: even if some individual moments lack the line heard in other recordings (the ‘Quoniam’ is notably lumpy), the detail and nuance are all here as Harnoncourt lavishes his deepest thoughts on the work, and the choir is fully inside the drama. The studio ambiance of Hickox’s recording is inevitably cleaner, though the live rustle of Harnoncourt’s only adds to the moment.