Johannes Somary

Mozart's Salzburg Choral Masterpieces

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The vital statistics on this recording of the young Mozart's choral music are a little odd -- an American choir, joining what's claimed to be a Russian period-instrument orchestra (the brasses do not sound like those of Mozart's day)...where? No recording date or location are given. Wherever it was, it allowed for a nicely transparent look into some of the smaller details of these works, which are all about charming small details. The Coronation Mass, K. 317, with its trumpets, organ, and timpani on top of an orchestra, is sometimes treated as a forerunner to the big masses of Mozart's later life, but in its limpid melodies and seductive solos it's more a throwback to the cotton candy of Mozart's Parisian adventure. Conductor Johannes Somary brings out the lightly bouncing setting of the word "Kyrie" at the beginning, and he gives himself room to build from a neutral beginning to a big conclusion in the Gloria and the Credo. His handling of the last sections of the Credo in particular, as Mozart sets the wordier stretches of the Nicene Creed with a group of large harmonic moves that, when done right as it is here, gather a lot of force and explode in a coda where Mozart exuberantly repeats the opening words "Credo in unum deum" (which might be read several ways, giving his Masonic leanings). The durable AmorArtis choir is large for a so-called chamber choir, with perhaps 40 members, but it is beautifully controlled, intonationally secure, and able to make the text clear even while hanging back in the shadows. The smaller works on the program are equally well done. The rarely heard Litaniae Lauretanem, K. 109, composed just after Mozart's 15th birthday, is a very teenaged work, striving for shocking effects (hear the harmonic progressions in the opening Kyrie, for example); good recordings of this piece are not common. The Missa Brevis, K. 220, also benefits from transparent textures that allow one to hear the little violin figures that inspired the alternative "Sparrow Mass" title for this work. The presence of two late Mozart choral masterpieces, the Ave Verum Corpus, K. 618, and the less familiar but equally lovely Ave Maria, K. 555, may seem odd on a program devoted to Mozart's Salzburg career, but they don't distract: they appear as an intermission and an encore, respectively. These are standout Mozart choral recordings that achieve the rare trio of vigor, transparency, and idiomatic grace.

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