musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Sigismund VON NEUKOMM (1778 - 1858): Missa Solemnis pro Die acclamationis Johannis VI

Marie Camille Vaquié, Camille Poul, soprano; Gemma Coma-Alabert, mezzosoprano; Daniel Auchincloss, tenor; Jonathan Gunthorpe, bass
Choeur de Chambre de Namur; La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy
Dir: Jean-Claude Malgoire

rec: October 3 & 5, 2008 (live), Tourcoing, Église Notre Dame des Anges
K617 - K617212 (© 2009) (71'13")

Sigismund Ritter von Neukomm is one of the many 'minor masters' who lived and worked around 1800 and are transitional figures between Classicism and Romanticism. They generally enjoy not that many attention, which is a shame. If their works are performed it often turns out they are unjustly neglected. That is also the case with Neukomm.

He was born in Salzburg and became a pupil of Johann Michael Haydn who was a relative of his mother, a singer in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg. In 1797 he went to Vienna to become a pupil of Michael's brother Joseph. He arranged many compositions of Joseph Haydn, for instance Die Schöpfung and Die Jahreszeiten. From 1804 to 1808 he stayed in St Petersburg where he acted as Kapellmeister at the German theatre. After a short stay in Berlin he went to Paris where he arrived in 1809.

What is important in regard to the Missa Solemnis which Jean-Claude Malgoire has recorded is his move to Rio de Janeiro in 1816. Here he played an important role in the dissemination of the music of the likes of Haydn and Mozart in South America. He also transcribed and harmonised modinhas (popular songs) composed by a mulatto who was incapable of writing them down. Thanks to Neukomm they have survived into our time.

In Rio de Janeiro he became the music teacher of João VI, Prince Regent of Portugal. In 1807 the Portuguese royal family left Lisbon under the pressure of the Napoleonic Wars and settled in Rio. But Neukomm never took a position at the royal court, in contrast to Marcos Portugal. Neukomm complained that one of his masses was censored by the brother of the composer. This could well be the Missa Solemnis Malgoire has recorded.

In 1817 Neukomm composed the Missa Solemnis pro Die acclamationis Johannis VI. The title suggests that it was written for the acclamation of João VI, the formal recognition of his accession to the throne, two years after the death of Queen Maria. But at the occasion it was not the mass which was performed but rather a Te Deum, probably also by Neukomm, but the liner-notes are a bit unclear about this.

This mass is the fourth of the 50 masses Neukomm has written (he composed in total more than 1200 works). In it Neukomm has used material from his first mass. The scoring is for five solo voices, choir and an orchestra pairs of flutes, oboes, cors anglais, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets, trombone, timpani and strings.

The Gloria is by far the longest section, lasting more than 45 minutes. The Credo is much shorter, and Sanctus and Benedictus together take just three minutes. The texture of this mass is remarkable in many ways. It goes too far to describe them in detail, so I mention a couple of things.

There are two solo arias in the Gloria: 'Laudamus te' is for bass, 'Quoniam tu solus Sanctus' for soprano. In addition there are a number of duets, trios and quartets for solo voices. In most sections soli and tutti rather alternate. The Gloria doesn't start with the intonation, but rather with a drum roll, then the orchestra enters, producing a crescendo; after that the intonation is sung. In various episodes sections from the orchestra are singled out, like 'Laudamus te' (Gloria) which starts with wind and low strings, or 'Adoramus te' (Gloria) starting with strings and low wind. 'Qui tollis' (Gloria) begins with strings in combination with trombones. There are also several obbligati for various instruments like the cor anglais, the clarinet, the viola and the cello.

The text is treated with some freedom. Both in 'Laudamus te' and 'Adoramus te' fragments from these texts are intermingled, and in 'Cum Sancto Spiritu' parts of the texts of these sections are again repeated. This episode begins with a crescendo, one of the moments when the dynamics are used to underline parts of the text. In the 'Crucifixus' the wind play crescendo, 'Qui tollis peccata mundi' ends piano. The last section from the Agnus Dei, 'Dona nobis pacem', ends on a forte, with timpani.

I have listened to this recording with great interest, and I find this mass quite captivating. I haven't heard a dull moment here. The qualities of the Missa Solemnis are well exposed by the performers. The choir contains 20 singers which might be less than Neukomm had at his disposal, but the Choeur de Chambre de Namur produces a powerful sound and sings the tutti excellently.

The soloists also do a fine job. The women use a little too much vibrato now and then, and Daniel Auchincloss' low notes are a bit too weak in 'Domine Deus' (Gloria). Jonathan Gunthorpe is especially praiseworthy as he sings the solo episodes for the bass beautifully. Since this is a typical 'symphonic mass' the orchestra plays an important role, and La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy give energetic and colourful performances. The obbligato parts are without exception perfectly executed. In particular the wind players are impressive.

I can't remember having heard any music by Neukomm before, and this disc was definitely a most interesting introduction. Recently some other discs with music by Neukomm have been released, which will be reviewed here in due course.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Choeur de Chambre de Namur
La Grande Écurie et la Chambre du Roy

CD Reviews