Franz Schubert – Mass in E flat major
Karita Mattila: soprano, Marjana Lopovšek: contralto, Jerry Hadley: tenor I, Jorge Pita: tenor II, Robert Holl: bass
Konzertverain Wiener Staatsopernchor
Chorus Master: Walter Hagen-Groll
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Deutsche Grammphon, 1988
As I wrote in the recording of the Missa Solemnis (conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt), Franz Schubert’s Masses had been widely criticized in the past for their excessive romanticism and mysticism and their lack of sacred taste. Actually, what was regarded with disdain is precisely what creates moments of great intensity and lyricism, even if the music remains tied to a secular sphere. It must also be remembered that Schubert used to compose his Masses with great freedom, both for music (even if Beethoven’s influence is clear) and for the text: in the Mass in E flat major (D 950), for example, the composer removed the part of the Credo which reads «unam, sanctum, catholicam, apostolicam».
The Mass in E flat major was completed in July 1828, a few months before the composer’s death, and was performed for the first time, posthumously, in 1829, under the conduction of his brother Ferdinand. In the present recording, recorded live in Vienna in 1986 during the traditional concert of All Saints, the great conductor leads the Wiener Philharmoniker, the Wiener Konzertverain Staatsopernchor and an excellent group of soloists, among whom the most important name is that of Karita Mattila.
Abbado emphasizes the inspiring atmosphere and mystical sweetness of the Mass, also impressing a general solemnity, which preserves a certain severity. The conductor was helped in its intent by the imposing choir, which immediately revealed itself in the Kyrie and continues to draw a majestic framework until the end of the composition. In the Mass in E flat major, in fact, the role of the soloists is marginal, limited to a few pieces or to only part of a piece, and the true protagonist is the chorus. It can only be said to be a fortune that the choice fell on Konzertverain Wiener Staatsopernchor.
The soloists, however, contribute superbly to the execution, as you can hear, for example, in Credo, Et incarnatus and Benedictus, where they faithfully echo the rarefied atmosphere that reigns in the orchestra, and do not ever prevail the choir. I remember briefly how the soprano Karita Mattila, in particular, manages to be almost ethereal and how harmonious is the blend of the two tenors’ voices created in Et incarnatus.
This is a recording that you will enjoy for sure.