Mozart: Sacred Works (complete)

COMPOSERS: Mozart
LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
WORKS: Sacred Works (complete)
PERFORMER: Bonney, Equiluz, Hagegård, Hampson, Lippert, von Magnus, Margiono, McNair, Prégardien, Schäfer, van der Walt; etc; Vienna State Opera Chorus, Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-21885-2
This is an exceptional labour of love , which has taken some 15 years. Its excellence is determined not least by its unified concept, shaped by Harnoncourt but materially aided by his faithful participants. Of the two choruses, that drawn from the Vienna State Opera is larger and well suited to the Mass in C minor, K427 and Requiem, whereas the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, trained by Erwin Ortner, is by turns intimate, dramatic or flamboyant, as the need dictates. Considering that the recordings were made in three different places (two churches and a casino), the overall sound is remarkably unified and the balance superb. The whole is very Austrian.

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Despite the staggering popularity of some of this music – Ave Verum, Coronation Mass, Mass in C minor, K427, Requiem – it can be said that of all the many genres in which Mozart composed, church music is on the whole the least known, certainly in Anglo-Saxon Protestant circles. There is a curious inbuilt suspicion of the whole concept of 18th-century Austrian sacred music – how could those cheerful Kyries, with their dazzling trumpets and operatic vocal lines, represent ‘Lord, have mercy upon us …’? Forget these ancient prejudices : take almost any CD and listen attentively and you will be fabulously rewarded. The sombre Kyrie in D minor, K341 and the loving Agnus Dei from another Litany, K195 (CD12) are my special favourites.

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The notes include a fine series of essays about church music in general and Mozart’s in particular, by Harnoncourt’s younger brother, Philipp, a Catholic priest and teacher; and equally pertinent articles on Nicolaus Harnoncourt and Mozart’s sacred music, period instruments, etc. There are no notes at all on textual matters , which means that we are not told about at least two works – ‘Sub tuum praesidium’, K198 and ‘Tantum ergo’, K197 (CD 10) are nowadays regarded as of doubtful authenticity, or that in Missa brevis in F, K192 Mozart’s later addition of two trumpets is used but that someone (Harnoncourt?) has added three kettledrum parts. The Gregorian plainchant is used to great effect in the two Vesper Services (K321, CD 1, K339, CD 2), and sometimes , more sparingly, elsewhere. A notable achievement.