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Philip Greenfield
American Record Guide, July 2011

…my verdict is somewhat mixed. It is not screechy in any way, nor do I feel a musicological chill in the air. To the contrary, the performance sports a fair amount of grace and charm. The Kyrie, for example, catches a lovely spiritual flow, and it’s hard not to smile when the hunting horns pop out for the ‘Hosanna in excelsis’ interludes later in the Mass. When things do plop down to earth, it’s because important contrapuntal passages fail to take off under this conductor’s care. The most notable example is the ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ fugue, which should finish off the Gloria with tremendous elan but doesn’t. Schuldt-Jensen conducts it like a nun chaperoning a prom, checking for hemlines and respectful distances when a bit of joyous abandon would be just the ticket. What’s ironic is that his take on Schubert’s feisty little Magnificat is an absolute blast. He had some fun in him after all, just not in the happiest, snappiest portion of the liturgy.

But here’s where things get complicated. While Sawallisch’s reading is more exciting (especially in that ‘Cum sancto’ fugue), it’s not the best entry of his set. I think it lacks charm, with its beefy, unsmiling textures and heavy solo voices. Mea culpa, I don’t know any other recordings to recommend. Maybe you should keep both performances handy; begin here, switch to Sawallisch for the Gloria and Credo (which also is admirably dramatic), then finish things off with the last few sections from Schuldt-Jensen and his Immortals. Naxos may not have given us Schubert for the ages, but when it’s good, it’s very good.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, July 2011

This marks the end of Morten Schuldt-Jensen’s run of Schubert’s six numbered masses for Naxos.

For Schubert, the A♭-Major Mass had an unusually long gestation, seven years in total if one counts an 1826 revision he made in the hope that it would secure him a position at the Imperial Court Chapel. It didn’t. Said to be the composer’s own favorite among his Latin Masses, it represents, according to All Music Guide, “probably the finest and most perfectly balanced fusion of traditional sacred style with Schubert’s own radiant songfulness and astonishing inventiveness among the composer’s choral pieces.”

Not published and possibly not performed in the composer’s lifetime, the A♭-Mass has an ethereal quality about it, a sweetness and calmness that recall Schubert’s earlier G-Major Mass (No. 2), but operating on a far more sophisticated harmonic and orchestral level. The vocal soloists and choristers seem to emerge from the orchestra as if they are instruments coming from within the orchestral fabric, while the orchestral parts seem to emerge from the chorus as if they are voices coming from within the choral tapestry. Much of the music has a delicate refinement to it that the later E♭-Major Mass doesn’t. Necessarily, of course, major portions of the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and concluding Dona nobis pacem, by dint of liturgical context, are of a noisier, more celebratory character. Does this make the A♭-Mass Schubert’s finest? I don’t know, but it does make it his most heartbreaking, for he worked on it so long and hard only to have it, like so many of his other efforts, come to naught. If one believes in such things, Schubert really was born under an unlucky star.

If he’s listening, this performance should salve his soul. It’s quite lovely in affect and atmosphere, not to mention being well sung and well played. The vocal soloists, a young but far from green bunch, handle their solo and ensemble singing with earnest concentration, soprano Trine Wilsberg being much improved over her appearance in the last reviewed release of the F Major (No. 1) and B♭-Major (No. 3) Masses. The Immortal Bach choristers are reliably together, on pitch, and alert in their entries. And the Leipzig Chamber Orchestra, a group of 22 players as it appears in the booklet photo, is capable of sounding quite robust when called upon to respond with force in the more dynamic passages. The recording too is quite clean and clear. The muddied diction problem I complained of in Fanfare 34:4 is not an issue here.

…one is grateful to have this new version with Schuldt-Jensen and company.


Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Schubert wrote a substantial quantity of sacred choral music, including six numbered masses which are rarely played today. Overshadowed by the popularity of works such as his Unfinished, the Great C major, his Lieder, chamber music and solo piano works this inexplicably remains one of his most overlooked genres.

The centrepiece here is the Mass No. 5 for four soloists, choir and orchestra. It’s one of Schubert’s finest sacred choral works. Schubert commenced the score in 1819 working on it over a productive three year period that includes approximately the completion of the Trout Quintet and the composition of the Unfinished. The composer later revised the score considerably over the winter of 1825/26 using it in support of an unsuccessful application for deputy Kapellmeister to the Emperor at the Imperial Court Chapel. Schubert liked to refer to the Mass as his ‘Missa Solemnis’. It was for Schubert a labour of love on which he “spent more time, and more trouble, than over any other single work.” (The Master Musicians: Schubert by John Reed, J.M. Dent, London, 1987 pg.194).

The appealing Kyrie eleison is a generally tender movement with an intense sense of reverence. There is glorious singing from the choir and the woodwind is accorded considerable prominence. In the Gratias agimus tibi I admired the reverential soft focus on the excellent soprano Trine Wilsberg Lund. The movement is variegated with passages of weight and intensity. Alto Bettina Ranch and tenor Min Woo Lim are expressive in the Domine Deus, Agnus Dei with the striking woodwind allowed to shine.

The forward momentum in the Cum Sancto Spiritu is impressive and contains an eloquent part for the choir. Opened by a brass fanfare that is repeated the Credo in unum Deum is a movement with wide dynamics and searing melodies. The singing from the choir in the Et incarnatus est is gravely affecting with the Et resurrexit exuberant and briskly taken by Schuldt-Jensen. The brass-laden Confiteor has an intense outpouring for the choir. The Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus is predominantly dramatic but I was struck by the bucolic feel to the sprightly and very brief Osanna in excelsis.

The trio of soloists make a glorious impression in the Benedictus qui venit. I was delighted at the opening with the soprano and alto being joined the tenor accompanied by notable pizzicato strings. Featuring the quartet of soloists the mood of the Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi is serious and affecting, almost one of mystery. The final section of the Dona nobis pacem was uneventful with rather a quiet mood established.

The splendid Magnificat, D.486 is just one of several precious gems of modest duration to be found in Schubert’s substantial body of sacred choral music. Cast in three movements it is scored for four soloists, choir and orchestra. Schubert’s manuscript carries the date 1816 but it is contended that it may have been composed the previous year. The Magnificat is a canticle also known as the Song of the Virgin Mary using a text taken from the St Luke Gospel. The opening section is exuberant and celebratory. Schubert excels greatly with the serenity of the marvellous central movement Deposuit potentes de sede, an Andante. There’s impressive singing from the quartet especially from Lund the memorable soprano. The C major Magnificat closes with a jubilant Gloria Patri.

Throughout the disc outstanding Oslo-born soprano Trine Wilsberg Lund rejoices in an unforced tone that is ravishingly creamy and smooth, yet manages to remain faithfully devout. The Berliner alto Bettina Ranch has a rich warm timbre and is somewhat set back in the balance. A native of Seoul Min Woo Lim is a pleasing and direct tenor. In the bass part I would have preferred Heidelberg baritone Dominik Königer to have been placed slightly further forward. A bass would have been ideal in the part, however, the famous Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, also a baritone, would often sing the bass part.

Formerly called the GewandhausKammerchor Leipzig the Immortal Bach Ensemble were in impeccable voice throughout and can take many plaudits for their tone and unity. Founded in 1971 the Leipziger Kammerorchester under the direction of Morten Schuldt-Jensen has a clear transparent sound almost in the manner of a period-instrument ensemble. The chamber orchestra use modern instruments and provide the power as appropriate but never drown out the vocal forces. It is no surprise that the orchestra use aspects of period performance practice. The Leipzig woodwind and brass sections were stunning.

Naxos and conductor Morten Schuldt-Jensen have released a stunningly performed recording. Closely recorded, the sound quality is clear yet some may be put off by the brightness in the forte passages. However if this disc is representative of Naxos’s Schubert sacred choral music series then it certainly is worth investigating.

David Vernier, February 2011

If you’re a fan of Schubert’s sacred choral music, this Naxos series, which includes all six Masses and other church works, promises consistently fine performances as good or better than the catalog competition, very well recorded in the complementary acoustics of a Leipzig church. A significant advantage is the presence of the same performing forces throughout the series—and they are solid, well-practiced, and very effective interpreters of this music, which, especially in the earlier works, isn’t always the most dynamic or inventive or inspired. However, this Mass No. 5 in A-flat major, completed in 1822 when the composer was what for him would turn out to be the “ripe old age” of 25 (he revised the Mass four years later)—is a work decidedly more substantive and refined, particularly regarding the more skillful treatment of the orchestra and more proficient handling of thematic ideas in the choral and solo parts.

The opening is a nifty little imitative sequence—first a choir of winds, then one of strings, followed by the choral sopranos and altos, then tenors and basses, gradually bringing everyone together. There are other memorable moments—the powerful fugal conclusion to the Gloria, the dramatic opening section of the Credo, complete with brass interjections, the strange “horn-call” recurring theme in the Sanctus. Perhaps most memorable is the sheer number and variety of ideas Schubert has crammed into this 40-minute work, which may not add up to the most cohesive Mass ever written, but it’s hard to fault the composer for the attractiveness of those ideas or for his command of orchestral and choral resources.

Schubert’s C major Magnificat is not a complete setting of this beloved text—it uses only the beginning “Magnificat anima mea Dominum” and “Deposuit potentes de sede” verses, concluding with the “Gloria Patri”. Its relatively short timing (not quite nine minutes) and big scoring (four soloists, choir, pairs of oboes, bassoons, trumpets, and drums, plus strings and organ) probably ensures its virtual neglect by concert programmers, but there’s some fine music here, especially the “Deposuit…” section that features lovely Mozartean writing for the ensemble of soloists. As mentioned, Schubert fans should not hesitate, and if you’re a listener looking for a way in to the composer’s church music, this is an excellent place to start. Recommended.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

Schubert joined his local church choir at the age of eight, and began writing liturgical music at the age of fifteen. The Fifth Mass appears to have been composed, not so much as a reverential score, but one that would show his accomplishments to prospective employers. He was to return to the idea over almost three years before it came to completion, and then three years later he revised it. Sadly it was to achieve little for him, his death coming three years later. Today it is seen as one of his masterpieces, full of youthful vigour and moments that are unashamedly joyous, its scoring for a full brass contingent packing plenty of weight at the appropriate moments. Though it provides highly rewarding passages for the four soloists, it is a largely a choral mass, Schubert obviously intending it to be performed in major cathedrals that could provide such forces. At around forty-minutes it is also of substantial length, and extends to orchestral passages where harmonies look forward to the operatic composers yet to be born, the horns even introducing a hunting mood in the Sanctus. I always relate the work to performances using both boys and mature voices, for it certainly adds much to the vivacity of the music. Here it is performed by the Immortal Bach Ensemble, which, despite it’s American-sounding name, is based in Leipzig. The disc is completed by a short Magnificat in C major, probably composed in 1815. The four soloists, Trine Wilsberg, Bettina Ranch, Min Woo Lim and Dominik Koniger sing with a lightweight lyricism, and, as in previous volumes in the series, the Danish conductor, Morten Schuldt-Jensen, offers straightforward and sincere performances.

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