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Gossec - Messe des morts SACD

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Product details

  • Audio CD (13 Jun. 2005)
  • Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: SACD
  • Label: Capriccio
  • ASIN: B0009JAEU8
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,141,952 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Amazon.com: HASH(0x93cf0564) out of 5 stars 1 review
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x93cf3864) out of 5 stars An extraordinary piece, worthy of any choral work of Haydn or Mozart - but SACD won't improve this badly flawed version 6 Sept. 2011
By Discophage - Published on Amazon.com
I don't have this SACD reissue of a recording originally made in 1980 and first released on CD by Capriccio in 1992. It is that earlier version that I have, so I can't comment on how the SACD processing has improved the sound. But one thing is sure, it won't do much to improve the very serious flaws of this version of Gossec's Requiem, and these flaws rule it out.

I refer you to my extended review of the "traditional" issue for the details on this, Gossec: Messe des Morts. In capsule:

1. François-Joseph Gossec's Requiem (Missa pro Defunctis, or Messe des morts), composed in 1760, signaled the breakthrough to public success of the 26-year old composer. It is easy to understand why. It is an extraordinary composition, worthy of any choral work of Haydn or Mozart. The influence of Gossec's Requiem on Mozart's has often been noted (just compare the Dies Irae and Mozart's Rex Tremendae), but listen to the Tuba Mirum, with its ominous antiphonal trombones placed at a distance: now I know where Berlioz got the idea from in his own Tuba Mirum from the Requiem: it is tantamount to plagiarism! The melismata of the "Te Decet Hymnus" recall Mozart's Mass in C, and the violence of "Mors stupebit et natura" falls somewhere between Haydn's Nelson-Mass, Beethoven's Gluckliches Fahrt and again Berlioz' Requiem. And, why not? I hear adumbrations of Verdi's Requiem in the lyricism of the Recordare, and of Fauré in the appeased and, respectively, ethereal and pastoral quality of the "Requiem Aeternam" or "Pie Jesu Domine". The Requiem contains numerous other beauties and masterful touches of imagination that I can't begin to describe.

2. This version under Herbert Schernus is deeply flawed. First, it is severely cut, and I don't know if it is because Schernus follows the supposedly simpler original version kept in manuscript at the Royal Library in Brussels rather than the score published in 1774 (but Louis Devos, who recorded a competing version on Erato, Gossec:Requiem, and who also refers to that manuscript, doesn't do those cuts), or (more likely) because the producers wanted to fit the piece on one CD. If so, silly thinking: at 66-minutes, the CD could have easily fitted ten more minutes, and indeed Devos' recording is 73 minutes long. Anyway, two wonderful numbers disappear, Exaudi (a soprano aria, which would have been track 4) and the fugal "Et Lux Perpetua" after the repeat of the Requiem Aeternam, track 4. In other cases, Schernus performs other settings of the same verse, that are indeed much simpler (and may then derive from the manuscript), but also much less interesting than the versions played by Devos and Diego Fasolis on Naxos (Gossec: Grande Messe des Morts / Symphonie à 17 parties): "Inter oves" (track 10), with Schernus a simple, plangent recitative for baritone rather than an extended and rather joyous Mozartean aria for soprano; "Pie Jesu" from the Dies Irae section of the Requiem (track 14), much shorter, more dramatic but not nearly as beautiful as Devos' and Fasolis' touchingly angelic and appeased setting, and ending abruptly on an Amen, instead of developing a great and mighty Bach-like final fugue on the same word. Schernus' Requiem also ends with a short, solemn, abrupt and not very distinctive setting of the words "Requiem aeternam" (track 22) where Devos and Fasolis play a more beautifully appeased and "Faurean" short setting of the same words, serving as an introduction to a variant of the "Et Lux Perpetua" fugue that followed their repeat of the Requiem Aeternam (see comment above about track 4) - a much more convincing ending, both musically (it is another substantial and mighty fugue) AND for the meaning it conveys: it is not eternal rest that is the final word, but perpetual light.

All those omissions are emphatically NOT compensated by Schernus' few additions, the most substantial being the inclusion, in penultimate position, of an extended trio on the verse "Lux aeterna", that the two other versions do not perform.

Then, Schernus took the strange decision to do without the tenor called for by Gossec, and replace him, alternately, by soprano or alto (for the details of this convoluted issue see my extended review). It changes entirely the character of the music, is far less original than what Gossec wrote (could even Cray XK6 compute how many soprano arias were written in the 18th Century?), and sometimes lends the music an operatic character that is out-of-place. There too, the quality of his baritone, Alessandro Corbelli, isn't enough to compensate. Among the other two, soprano Eva Csapo sounds at times a bit too matronly in comparison to the pure-sounding Degelin with Devos, and sometimes just fine. About alto Hildegard Laurich I'll only say that she's one of those chesty altos, and that at times I really thought she was a tenor!

The last drawback of this version is Schernus himself, his often plodding and inexpressive conducting, his plain and characterless strings. For more details on this (and a slightly more balanced assessment - I'm giving only the bottom line here), I refer you again to my extended review.

Among the two other versions that I have, Devos and Fasolis, it is without hesitation, and despite his own few cuts (far more minimal than those made by Schernus, and sometimes even imperceptible), Devos that I prefer. For the details on that, see my (extended) review of the Erato CD (link above). I'll keep Fasolis for reference, but it is the Devos I'll be using for listening. As for Schernus, I see very little to keep me from getting rid of it.
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