WORKS: Mass in C major K317 (Coronation Mass); Missa in tempore belli (Paukenmesse)
PERFORMER: Sylvia McNair; Delores Ziegler; Hans Peter Blochwitz; Andreas SchmidtRIAS-Kammerchor; Berlin Philharmonic/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 435 853-2 DDD
James Levine gives a vigorous account of the Coronation Mass, all the more dramatic for being a live performance, where any rough edges are more than compensated for by the thrilling urgency he is able to communicate. In the great Credo, for example, he masses the RIAS-Kammerchor and the Berlin Philharmonic to jubilant effect. In the lyrical sections, he is aided by an accomplished set of soloists, particularly Sylvia McNair, who is appropriately sweet-voiced and rueful in the Agnus Dei which so closely anticipates the Countess’s ‘Dove sono’ from Figaro,
The Mass is well coupled with Haydn’s masterly Missa in tempore belli (In Time of War). Written during Napoleon’s Italian campaign, this setting is symphonic and full of stark contrasts where Mozart is primarily operatic and affirmative. Here, Levine is perhaps less persuasive in live performance, although he does manage to convey some of Haydn’s darker moments: the insistent timpani and trumpet fanfares in the Agnus Dei are menacingly martial.
The other Coronation Mass is from Johannes Wildner for Naxos, and if Wildner’s performers are not as sophisticated as Levine’s, this is still a spirited account, coupled with some of Mozart’s most famous religious music which, at budget price, is worth considering. William Humphreys-Jones