Gounod's "St Cecilia Mass" anticipates both Rossini's "Petite messe solennelle" and Verdi's "Requiem" by pulling off their trick of importing an overtly operatic style into liturgical music; of course Rossini had already set a dubious example with his "Messa di Gloria" of 1820. I have long enjoyed George Prêtre's recording particularly for Barbara Hendricks' ethereal singing but she is matched here by Irmgard Seefried from nearly twenty years earlier in 1965. Prêtre's account is free-flowing and lyrical but that tends to reinforce accusations of the work's sentimentality, whereas Markevitch goes for a more stately and majestic delivery and takes some five minutes longer over the work, neutralising the music's more saccharine tendencies and emphasising its grandeur by bringing out Gounod's lovely harmonies, especially in the orchestral Offertorio. It helps, too, that the Czech orchestra and choir are so robust and the sound in the Rudolfinium, Prague, is so immediate, whereas Prêtre has a much "churchier" acoustic".
There is no getting away from the fact that the mass does sometimes lapse into the distinctly vulgar and even trivial: the "et resurrexit" section of the Credo is sheer bombast with its vapid cymbal-bashing, but Markevich's refusal to linger or indulge protects it from the worst effects and the "et incarnatus" and "crucifixus" are spell-binding. Seefried is radiant in both the opening of the "Gloria" and the "Benedictus" and Uhde is both grand and elegant in his brief appearance. Gerhard Stolze's oddly plaintive and sexless tenor actually sounds right in the "Sanctus", and that movement builds to a great climax.
As a bonus we hear three rousing prayers on behalf of the Church, The Army and the Nation to conclude the Mass, overtly operatic in character. This is a superb recording which reeks of both piety and theatre.
This recording dates from 1966 and was originally on vinyl. Deutche Grammophon had already brought it out on CD but have reissued the CD with different art work so it has obviously stood the passage of time. Powerful recording with good soloists. I heard it on a friend's vinyl recording years ago and was very pleased to find the initial CD version.
This is a 1966 original recording which has been digitally remastered. I purchased the work as a rehearsal aid as our choral society is performing this work in March, and it provides the inspiration I need to get acquainted with my part. The definition of the voice parts is good, and the tempo is slightly slow by modern standards, but this can be helpful when rehearsing. It is a beautiful melodic work and this Deutsche Grammophon recording does it full justice. Technically the sound quality lacks some clarity, but overall the sensitivity of the performance makes up for this.
This work is quite a discovery for me - I found it quite different from the more frequently performed works of this nature, but nevertheless it is I think a very fine choral work with some most attractive choruses. Highly recommended - especially with the offer of the CD plus mp3 download for only a fraction more than the mp3 alone, It is from an old DG recording,but it still stands comparison with newer recordings.
At their peak, the triumvirate of the Penguin Guide were adept at gunnery. Here’s a prime example:
“Gounod’s Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile (MSSC) with its blatant march setting of the Credo and sugar-sweet choral writing may not be for sensitive souls . . . .”
Right or wrong, this is a hit mid-ship. Whilst the MSSC is less obscure than others in the series, it warrants inclusion. Being from the penal colonies, I was also interested to ascertain if I’m a sensitive soul or otherwise.
This is my first encounter with Gounod. His vocation was forged in a fiery encounter with Don Giovanni at an early age – one that he never forgot. By any standard, the close of the Credo (“et vitam venturi saeculi”) is an expression of beauty which belongs properly in the world of archetypes and not dwell among us like a tyre-outlet. On the other hand, the Resurrection and Ascension are celebrated vulgarly with a barrage of cymbal crashes – and the Domine Salvam sounds like a chorus that was omitted from an early draft of Nabucco (and with good reason too). Gounod’s update of Mozart’s epistle sonatas – the Offertorium for orchestra alone - is high calorie stuff and yet it’s easy on the ear and stills the listener.
Markevitch’s performance of the MSSC was recorded in June 1965. It’s the Real McCoy. Every one of the participants understands the mechanics of the liturgy and the great beyond to which it draws reference; just as importantly, they never waiver in their advocacy of this uneven work. The analogue recording is a model of its kind, with plenty of space around the array but not to the detriment of detail. Seefried is at her creamy best. It also stars Gerhard Stolze who likewise features in one of the Penguin Guides’ philippics (“When Siegfried is out-sung by Mime, it’s time to complain!”). As recorded here, he does not have a strong voice, projection-wise; it would have been interesting to hear Carreras in his prime sing the Sanctus. As expected, Uhde is magisterial.
Before base-lining the sensitivity of my soul, I sought counsel from two mentors of mine: Sir Les Patterson (Australia’s Cultural Attaché to the Court of St James and Minister for Shark Conservation) and cashed up über-bogan Shane Warne (who will succeed Sir Les in due time – Shane’s update of the frescoes of the Sistine Ceiling has to be seen to be believed). In their own words, both declared that text-wise, the Credo prior to the ‘Et Incarnatus est’ is heavy going in any one’s language - so cut Gounod some slack. Sir Les suggested that Gounod should have dropped the reference to St Cecile and run with Haydn’s “Missa Sunt Bona Mixta Malis.” These are words of the wise. Let’s close on that note and sonorously so.