WORKS: Mass In A flat, D678
PERFORMER: Luba Orgonasova (soprano), Birgit Remmert (contralto), Deon van der Walt (tenor), Wolfgang Holzmair (baritone), Anton Scharinger (bass); Arnold Schoenberg Choir, CO of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-98422-2, 0630-13163-2
It’s good to see Schubert’s underrated Masses receiving a decent airing in his bicentenary year. Hot on the heels of the fresh-voiced complete set from Bruno Weil on Sony (reviewed in April) come these marvellous live accounts of Harnoncourt’s first encounters with the two late Masses.
Harnoncourt takes a more Romantic and spacious approach than did Weil; at times he seems to be giving Schubert’s large-scale designs an almost Brucknerian breadth and intensity. All the customary Harnoncourt trademarks are present – strong attention to dynamics and balance, sometimes unexpected tapering off at the ends of phrases – but what I found surprising was the deeply ‘religious’ aura he creates in both works. His collaborators are, as usual, first class: soprano Luba Orgonasova is especially impressive, as is the alert singing of the Arnold Schoenberg Choir (a few ragged corners of ensemble notwidistanding). If the speeds in ‘fast’ movements occasionally seem a touch deliberate, there are rewards in terms of hearing the full richness of Schubert’s scoring. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe here boasts not only fine strings and expressive woodwind, but also a brass section that can be forceful and thrilling without over-dominating the textures. It’s just a shame Teldec couldn’t have added one or two of Schubert’s lesser-known choral pieces as fillers. Stephen Maddock