Collegium Novum / Edward Higginbottom / New College Choir, Oxford

Mozart: Music for Salzburg Cathedral

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On the heels of a successful recording of Mozart's Requiem mass in D minor, K. 626, comes this survey of some much less famous music by the men-and-boys Choir of New College, Oxford, the Collegium Novum instrumental ensemble, and their conductor, Edward Higginbottom. It's far from clear that the argument for historical accuracy advanced here is accurate. The soloists are drawn from the choir itself, but the music here might well have been sung by castrati, for which a female soprano is a better approximation than a boy soprano (female singers were apparently still prohibited in Salzburg). But the list of attractions begins nevertheless with the relationship between soloists and choir, which is unusually well integrated and produces a pleasantly balanced sound. The list continues with the overall performance of the choir, which is beautifully rehearsed; its articulation of the texts is absolutely second to none. And the biggest reason to try this out is the presence of some rather underappreciated Mozart gems. Not present are the Mozart hits of this era, the Mass in C major, K. 317 ("Coronation"), and the Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339. Instead there are a couple of bright works, one of which paved the way toward those masterpieces; both are enjoyable in their own right. The Vesperae de Dominica, K. 321, appears to have been a bit neglected because it doesn't contain an aria on the order of the gorgeous F major piece in K. 339, but its writing for soloists is exquisite, and it all fits together here like clockwork. The Litaniae Lauretanae, K. 195, was written in 1774 when Mozart was 16, and it has connections with rather frothy instrumental music of the period like the Concertone, K. 190. All the music is characteristically joyous, and Novum's recording work in Oxford's Church of St. Michael and All Angels captures the choir's precision superbly. This performance has a sound that some may take to or may not, and it is really a matter of preference: as the fine booklet notes here mention, these works were probably performed in different ways on different occasions.

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