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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791): "Coronation Mass"

Teresa Wakim, sopranoa; Paula Murrihy, mezzo-sopranob; Thomas Cooley, tenorc; Sumner Thompson, baritoned
Handel and Haydn Society
Dir: Harry Christophers

rec: April 27 & 29, 2012, Boston, Mass., Symphony Hall
Coro - COR16104 (© 2012) (67'27")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list
Score Haydn; Score Mozart KV 165/158a; Score Mozart KV 317

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Symphony in B flat 'La Reine' (H I,85); Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART: Exsultate, jubilate, motet for soprano and orchestra (KV 165/158a)a; Mass for 4 solo voices, choir and orchestra in C 'Krönungsmesse' (KV 317)abcd

This disc brings together three of the best-known and most popular compositions from the classical era. These have nothing to do with each other, so it seems. Harry Christophers thinks differently: "[We] present a programme devoted to monarchs and coronation". That is questionable: Haydn's Symphony in B flat is nicknamed 'La Reine', because Queen Marie Antoinette favoured this work. That name wasn't given to his symphony by Haydn nor did he write it for the Queen. In the case of Mozart's Mass in C there is no connection to royalty at all: Mozart didn't write it for a specific occasion. The nickname Coronation Mass derives from a performance in Prague at the occasion of the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia, under the direction of Antonio Salieri. The motet Exsultate, jubilate has no connection with the supposed subject of the programme anyway.

This live recording was made in the Symphony Hall in Boston. Christophers praises its acoustics as "quite superb". I know it only from recordings, and obviously the recording technique plays its part here, but I am not impressed. It lacks depth, which struck me in particular in Mozart's motet, where I hear little integration of soloist and orchestra. Maybe the acoustical circumstances are also due to the lack of transparency in Haydn's symphony. The sound is rather massive, with little detail. However, this is also a matter of interpretation and performance. The symphony doesn't come off badly, but I doubt whether it is up to the competition of the many recordings which are on the market. Performances by, for instance, Harnoncourt and Brüggen are stronger in contrast, but also more subtle and reveal more details.

"This disc also sees the debut of soprano Teresa Wakim", according to Christophers. It is a very fine debut. She has a beautiful voice, with a pleasant and warm timbre. Exsultate, jubilate receives a most satisfying performance. Ms Wakim's delivery is very good, she puts the text in the centre and shapes the lines beautifully. Her performance is differentiated, for instance in her treatment of dynamics and the accentuation of good notes. She doesn't avoid vibrato, but it is rather small and not obtrusive. This is definitely one of the best performances of the motet I have heard.

It is probably the only item on this disc which makes it recommendable. The Coronation Mass is another work which is frequently recorded, and again I doubt whether this recording can compete with performances already on the market. With its 36 voices this choir seems too large for this repertoire, and the lack of transparency I noted before also damages the performance of the mass. That is also due to the vibrato in the choral episodes. The ensembles of the soloists don't fare much better: the other three singers have also nice voices, but they don't blend very well. In these passages Ms Wakim sings with more vibrato than in the motet. However, in the soprano solo in the Agnus Dei she returns to the way she sang the motet. This is the most beautiful part of the mass.

On balance, I can't commend this disc unreservedly. It is Teresa Wakim's singing which is its main selling point.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Teresa Wakim
Handel and Haydn Society

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