Monday, August 29, 2016

Baroque Splendor: Muffat's Missa in labore requies

Audite 97.539 (SACD) (2016)
Georg Muffat (1653-1704): Missa in labore requies a 24
Heinrich Ignaz Biber (1644-1704): Sonata VI a 5: Sonata VIII a 5
Antonio Bertali (1605-1669): Sonata Sancti Placidi a 14: Sonata a 13
Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (circa 1623-1680): Sonata XII a 7
Cappella Murensis
Les Cornets Noirs
Johannes Strobl

Recorded in the magnificently orotund acoustics of the Abbey Church of Muri in Switzerland, this 2016 performance of Georg Muffat's only surviving sacred work is truly a joy to hear. The German Audite label gives us an uncannily naturalistic super-audio sound that captures the festive verve and antiphonal grandeur of the music without superfluous bombast or technical gimmickry. The Mass--apparently composed for an episcopal coronation coinciding with the celebration of Pentecost--features two vocal and three instrumental choirs, here luxuriously deployed throughout the Muri sanctuary with its four corner galleries high above the main floor. Yet all forces are superbly balanced, lending a sense of fleetness and transparency to the score that has often been missing in recordings of music from this period (most notoriously in some of Paul McCreash's muddy readings of Biber and Schutz for DG Archiv). Soloists, choir, and strings create a delightful synergy in play with the outstanding Les Cornets Noirs--baroque brass has seldom sounded so vibrant or so lithe; the creative use of stops and mutes in sections of the Credo is truly revelatory. The diverse 'sacred sonatas' for strings and brass by Muffat's contemporaries that fill out the disc are equally well-played and highly enjoyable.

The disc comes in a standard SACD jewel case with a 31-page booklet, featuring program notes in German and English, with an extensive--and fascinating--essay about the life and work of the composer--a colleague and rival of Biber at the court of Salzburg from 1678 to 1690--by Ernst Hintermeier, peppered with mouth-watering tidbits of musicological trivia. The manuscript of the Missa Labore in Requies eventually came into the possession of no less a figure than Franz Joseph Haydn, and resided in the musical collection of the Esterhazy family until its "discovery" in 1991 (before which the work had been deemed spurious by the broader scholarly community).

Overall a very handsome and desirable production. If you are a fan of Jordi Saval's exciting readings of Biber and Monteverdi, Strobl's Muffat will definitely be for you.

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