Mozart – Mass in C minor K 427
Natalie Dessay, soprano I; Véronique Gens, soprano II; Topi Lehtipuu, tenor, Luca Pisaroni, bass
Le Concert d’Astrée
Louis Langrée, conductor
Virgin Classics, 2006
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart started the composition of his Große Messe (“Great Mass”, K 427/417a) in 1782, when he was already living in Vienna after he had left his post at the Court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. The score was almost completed on 4 January 1783, when Mozart mentioned the Mass in a letter to his father, explaining that he had made a vow to write a mass when he would bring his wife Constanze to Salzburg. It is not accidental then that the first execution of the Mass took place in Mozart’s hometown, at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter, on 26 October 1783, and that Constanze sang the soprano part.
Mozart wrote the Mass under the influence of Baroque composers, in particular Handel and Bach, as it is evident in the use he made of counterpoint, but did not complete it. The Mass lacks the last section of the Credo and the entire Agnus Dei, while the Sanctus is partially lost and needs to be reconstructed. The reason why the work was not completed is still not clear, but Mozart re-used the materials to compose the cantata Davidde penitente (K 469) for the Tonkünstler-Societät two years later.
A long period of oblivion awaited the Mass since then. It was rediscovered almost sixty years after its composition, in 1840, when Johann Anton André published it for the first time, and it took another sixty years to hear the first performance, which took place in Dresden in 1901.
Together with the Mass, the present recording includes one more work and it is the Mauerische Trauermusik, written in July 1785 and performed for the first time in November of the same year to accompany the funeral of two fellow Masons.
The difficulty to perform the unfinished Mass is fully illustrated by conductor Louis Langrée in an extensive interview included in the booklet and it is enough for me to remind you that he recorded here his own revision of the score. His conduction is exquisite, although I have to admit that I prefer slower times for Mozart’s sacred music because speed sacrifices its mystical spirit and its idea of divine mystery. Nonetheless, in this case I had the impression that Langrée’s firmness gives energy and incisiveness to the music. Listen for example to the Kyrie and how effectively the entry of the chorus stands out after the renowned opening string music, which is even more powerful thanks to the vividness of the recording, which allows to listen to every vibration of the orchestra and especially to the strings and to the timpani, which play a significant role in this performance.
The soloists are some of the best singers you can wish for the Mass, led by soprano Natalie Dessay. Dessay’s voice is not as warm as that of some of her colleagues, but it is remarkable that its silvery colour assimilates her to the Cherubs of the angelic choir, while her flawless singing is enriched with marvellous trills and wonderful coloratura. These are qualities she has in common with the second soprano, Veronique Gens, who for her part adds the warmth which Dessay lacks and contributes to the success of the Mass with some fine solo moments, as the Laudamus te.
The parts of tenor and bass are definitely smaller than those of their female colleagues, but Topi Lehtipuu and Luca Pisaroni are as valuable and skilful as Dessay and Gens and their presence give a peculiar character at least to the Benedictus. It is a pity their voices have few other occasions to emerge.