WORKS: Mass in A flat, D678; Hymnus an den Heiligen Geist, D948; Psalm 92, D953; Stabat mater, D175
PERFORMER: Soloists; Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 456 578-2
There are gems waiting to be rediscovered amongst Schubert’s choral music. Here the solemnity of a setting of a Hymn to the Holy Ghost is remarkable, and the performance finely balanced. A short, early Stabat mater (Schubert set only four verses of the text) is another worthwhile piece, its accent on human grief characteristically drawing something personal from the 18-year-old composer. Even more interesting is the setting of Psalm 92 written for a Viennese synagogue and its cantor, Salomon Sulzer, in July 1828, with a prominent part for the baritone soloist.
The main work itself is a more problematic one, though John Eliot Gardiner is as ever musicologically conscientious in investigating and presenting various versions made by the composer, whose own confidence in the contrapuntal style was limited.
What he cannot do, at least consistently, is to provide Schubert’s fugal writing with an impetus some would say it inherently lacks. The result is worthy and at times a touch stodgy. Much of the rest of the piece – the more intimate, less public statements often include the most striking music – goes well, with nicely shaped phrasing. Gardiner’s soloists are a happily matched team, though his soprano tends towards the colourless. A more traditional account of the piece with star soloists – Helen Donath, Brigitte Fassbaender, Francisco Araiza and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau – comes from Wolfgang Sawallisch and Bavarian forces and can be broadly recommended. George Hall