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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Mass, Op. 20
PERFORMER: Nienke Oostenrijk (soprano), Margriet van Reisen (contralto), Marcel Reijans (tenor), Hubert Claessens (bass); Netherlands Concert Choir, The Hague Residentie Orchestra/Matthias Bamert
‘Outstanding musician, highly original person’ was Brahms’s verdict on Johannes Verhulst (1816-91) – with whom, on his visits to Holland, he regularly enjoyed a glass of Advokaat. Now nearly forgotten, in his time Verhulst was one of the commanding personalities on the Dutch music scene, both as conductor and composer. Most of his major works were written early on, this noble, large-scale Mass when he was only 27. Verhulst had studied with Mendelssohn in Leipzig, and through him came to appreciate the Bach B minor Mass; he also worshipped Handel and Beethoven, and was one of Schumann’s doughtiest supporters. All these composers can be detected in his Mass, but mainly at a deep, thoroughly integrated level rather than as surface influences (the fact that the last part of the concluding ‘Agnus Dei’ is based rather blatantly on the final chorus of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a lapse, but a pleasant one). Verhulst handles his large forces with unerring skill. Indeed the whole work is massively accomplished, and it doesn’t seem too hyperbolic to describe it as at least a minor masterpiece: this is one of the most important symphonic choral works between the Missa solemnis and the German Requiem. Matthias Bamert directs what seems a wholly convinced, warmly majestic performance. Calum MacDonald