Sunday 6 April 2014

A thoroughly enjoyable performance of George Muffat’s Missa in labore requies from St Florianer Sängerknaben and Ars Antiqua Austria directed by Gunar Letzbor on a new release from Pan Classics

Georg Muffat (1653-1704), was born in Mégève in the Savoy region of France. He studied with Lully in Paris and, after a period as organist at Molsheim, France, he travelled widely before, in 1678, becoming organist and chamber musician to the Archbishop of Salzburg. By the 1680s he was in Rome where he studied with Pasquini and met Corelli. From 1690 he worked as Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Passau, Bavaria.

He was prominent as a composer of instrumental music, bringing to Germany French and Italian styles. Of his liturgical works he left only three Masses, an offertory and two Salve Reginas.

It is his Missa in labore requies that St Florianer Sängerknaben  and Ars Antiqua Austria  directed by Gunar Letzbor  have recorded for Pan Classics.

Gunar Letzbor with his choir and period orchestra has already explored choral works by such composers as Franz Joseph Aumann, Johann Joseph Fux and Joseph Balthasar Hochreither for Pan Classics.

PC 10301

A majestic, instrumental Sonata by Muffat precedes the Mass with Ars Antiqua Austria providing a fine balance of strings and brass.

St Florianer Sängerknaben comprise entirely of male voices which certainly lends an authenticity to the sound as does the placing of two choirs antiphonally left and right, with the soloists, including boy treble soloists placed centrally in an arc. Likewise the instrumental wind and string choirs are divided left and right in the excellent acoustic of Gurk Cathedral, Austria

The Kyrie of the Missa in labore requies has an emphatic opening statement with a fine weaving of choral and instrumental sound. At times, the boy trebles sound a little lost in the large acoustic but overall the choir and instrumentalists make a fine sound. Certainly the Gloria brings some fine male voices with plenty of verve and impact. The trebles blend very well with the rich male voices in the Laudamus te.

The Gratias agimus has all the spectacle one could want with some glorious brass sounds. There is fine singing in the Domine Deus from the individual countertenor, tenor and bass soloists and a beautifully done Qui tollis from the choir in Muffat’s descending phrases. There are superb orchestral sounds, so well-paced.

There is fine weight in the instrumental ensemble sections of Quoniam, with the soloists doing fine work in this rhythmically pointed section and more lively rhythms in Cum Sancto Spiritu, finely done with lovely brass interjections.

The Credo brings another of those spectacular Salzburg style sections so well done by these forces. Et in unum Dominum opens with bass soloist, string ensemble and organ, a very effective section before the male voices bring an excellent blend as they do in the succeeding Qui propter nos homines.  The boy trebles really come into their own in Et incarnatus est where they do a fine job slowly weaving and blending the texts.

Trebles and countertenor are terrific in the strangely dramatic Crucifixus before the other soloists join with drums and brass in this unusual piece. With Et resurrexit, Muffat uses a rhythmic pulse to which all the singers and band respond so well, especially the somewhat funereal slower section. A treble opens Et in Spiritum Sanctum, sounding a little weak in the large acoustic, before the other soloists join in this slow moving section, soon backed up by the ensemble, in particular some terrific brass. There are some lovely individual combinations of soloists before a massive, grand Amen.

The countertenor opens the Sanctus with a light accompaniment of organ and strings before a treble joins as do the others before leading to an ending in the grand manner. The trebles do a great job in the Hosanna, with the countertenor before the other soloists join. They weave a lovely sound in the Benedictus with the trebles adding fine input. The trebles really do make a fine attempt with the awkward, staccato rhythm of the returning Hosanna. A solo boy treble has the job of opening the Agnus Dei, which he does well, before the full ensemble and soloists join in this fine section. The whole ensemble comes together in the lively Dona Nobis Pacem to end this fine mass.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable performance with the all-male choir and soloists tending to give a more authentic sound. If there is a weakness here it is the solo boy trebles who sometimes sound lost in this acoustic. Certainly for those who prefer adult only choirs this will not be for them. Other than the problem with the trebles this is a fine recording showing off the acoustic of Gurk Cathedral to great effect.

There are informative notes about the composer as well as Observations from the Podium by the conductor, Gunar Letzbor. The texts are only in Latin and German but given that the texts of the Catholic Mass are so well known this shouldn’t be a problem.

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