Franz Schubert – Missa Solemnis
with Luba Orgonasova, soprano; Birgit Remmert, contralto; Deon van der Walt, tenor; Wolfgang Holzmair, baritone; Anton Scharinger, bass
Arnold Schoenberg Chor
Erwin Ortner: chorus master
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor
Franz Schubert completed his Mass in E flat major or Missa Solemnis in July 1828, just a few months before his untimely death. He begun to sketch it some time before, perhaps as a reaction to inner need rather than to external stimulus, as it is usual with his late sacred works.
As I wrote when I reviewed another recording of this Mass (conducted by Claudio Abbado), Schubert’s Masses have been disregarded for a long time because they were considered far from religious inspiration and only two of them (out of a total of six) received public performance. The Missa Solemnis premiered posthumously, in the Alserkirche in Vienna, on October 4, 1829, under the conduction of Franz’s brother Ferdinand, and received only another performance one month later.
From the musical point of view, the Missa Solemnis reveals the heavy influence of Beethoven, especially in the Gloria and Credo fugues, although Schubert adds his own melodic and harmonic creativity to the model. Also Bach, Mozart and Haydn influenced him in the composition of the Mass.
As for the text, Schubert removed the words «unam, sanctum, catholicam, apostolicam» from the Credo.
Schubert’s Missa Solemnis in Harnoncourt’s Performance
It is a matter of fact that the unifier spirit of this recording of the Missa Solemnis is conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. With his usual insight and precision, with his considerate and committed rendition, Harnoncourt has added another gem to his own and to Schubert’s discography. Being aware that the Austrian composer had written all his Masses in a decidedly profane style, Harnoncourt avoids any suggestion that implies religious exaltation. Although there is clearly the intention to reach something higher, it is not a transcendental experience or an attempt to approach God that is going on here.
Sacredness is somehow a distant dimension, even if there are passages or entire pieces (especially the marvellous Benedictus) which seems inspired by it. This is just a temporary impression, however, as these are the passages where inner needs, not sacredness, are expressed. It is to the explanation of this impulse that Harnoncourt tends with his conduction. I think that this is something important to keep in mind to avoid any misunderstanding.
The forces that Harnoncourt has at his disposal are fine and noteworthy, beginning with the outstanding Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the dazzling Arnold Schoenberg Choir. The Choir, in particular, sings the longest and most significant vocal part and it carries it out with remarkable skill and inspiration, so that it is really a pleasure to listen to it. The soloists are equally fine and the only regret is that they do not have arias to sing as it happens in other sacred works.