WORKS: Mass in A flat, D678; Stabat mater, D175; Salve regina, D106
PERFORMER: Soile Isokoski (soprano), Monica Groop (mezzo-soprano), Marcus Ullmann, Peter Schreier (tenor), Juha Kotilainen (bass); Peter Schreier Choir, Tapiola Sinfonietta/Peter Schreier
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 917-2
Schubert started out as a church musician at the imperial court chapel, where he served as a chorister for four years from 1808 to 1812. So it is appropriate that Weil’s stylish version of the A flat Mass features the Vienna Boys Choir, in which Schubert sang as a child. The boys occasionally seem a little underpowered, but their relatively distanced focus paints atmospheric images of an angelic heavenly host, and Stefan Preyer’s pure-toned soprano solos are genuinely touching.
Of Schubert’s six Masses, the A flat is his largest and most ambitious, intended for dedication to the Emperor. Nonetheless, interpretations that emphasise its stately qualities risk sounding austere and earthbound. Peter Schreier is a renowned Schubertian, and his new recording of the work with Finnish musicians, with a fine group of soloists, concentrates on the score’s grand dramatic contrasts. Chorus and orchestra are more evenly balanced than with Weil, and this well-disciplined ensemble’s alert response sympathises effectively with the spiritual message. However, Schreier’s leisurely speeds give details in the Gloria and Credo too much weight and the other movements sound rather heavy and operatic. Weil’s more extrovert, up-tempo approach generates a more thrilling religious experience. The polished grandeur of Schreier’s account of Schubert’s Mass will certainly have its followers, but I prefer the keener impression of Weil’s alternative.
To complete the programme, Schreier’s choir sings the lilting phrases of the Stabat mater with persuasive charm, and Schreier himself is eloquently theatrical as tenor soloist in the Salve regina. Nicholas Rast