Schubert, Mendelssohn

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn,Schubert
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Mass in A flat, D678
PERFORMER: Anna Korondi (soprano), Anke Vondung (mezzo-soprano), Andreas Karasiak (tenor), Kay Stiefermann (bass); RIAS Chamber Choir, Orchestre des Champs-Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901786
Recordings of Schubert’s A flat Mass range from the ample, Romantically inclined Sawallisch (EMI) to the crisp, up-tempo reading from Bruno Weil (Sony), employing an all-male choir and boy soloists. Somewhere in between come Gardiner (Philips) and this new version from Herreweghe, recorded at concerts in Berlin last year, both using superbly responsive mixed-voice professional choruses and period orchestras. With their care for textural clarity, neither conductor misses a trick with Schubert’s poetic, highly original orchestral sonorities. Both choose mobile, though never hectic tempi, and combine a minute attention to detail with a command of the bigger picture.

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Differences between the two are often slight, though Gardiner opts for the less familiar – and less gargantuan – first version of the ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ fugue, making his disc essential for Schubert completists. Elsewhere Gardiner is that much more theatrical in sections like the violent, contorted ‘Crucifixus’ or the apocalyptic vision of the Sanctus. Herreweghe, at broadly similar speeds, often matches Gardiner in energy and elation; but he creates a greater sense of awe at the hushed opening of the Credo, and with a less aggressively marcato style finds a joyful innocence in the ‘Dona nobis pacem’. Both solo quartets are excellent, though Herreweghe’s soprano, Anna Korondi, has more body and colour than the virginal-sounding Deborah York. Korondi also sings alluringly in the other work here, Mendelssohn’s Psalm 42, done with such grace, tenderness and (in the neo-Handelian finale) exultation that familiar accusations of complacency and pomposity seem more than usually absurd. Richard Wigmore