Les Cris de Paris

Robert Schumann: Missa Sacra

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The revival of music from the last years of Robert Schumann's working life has extended even to works that have remained almost forgotten from his time to ours. Among those is the Missa Sacra, Op. 147, a piece that had its champions (Clara Schumann among them), but was only partially performed during Schumann's lifetime and later fell into complete disuse. It exists in several different versions (choir and orchestra, performed here, and choir and organ), and the Offertory included here was added to the work later. That Offertory, actually a Marian motet, is written for soprano, cello, and muted strings, and it's actually a lovely piece marked by Schumann's unconventional piety. The rest of the mass, though, belongs to the disastrous period of Schumann's tenure as music director in Düsseldorf, and it feels a bit like an academic exercise in the old Catholic mass tradition. Stacked up against Brahms' choral music it shows why choirs soon began to perform the latter. The mass is among the most blandly diatonic pieces Schumann ever wrote. The Four Songs for double choir, Op. 141, composed in 1849, are stronger. They might, in the parlance of the day, be called spiritual but not religious, and they are inventive in their adaptation of the straightforward verses of Goethe and other arch-Romantic poets to complex choral textures. The performances by Les Cris de Paris, consisting of both a choir and orchestra, are quite expressive, and while nothing here is going to rewrite the repertory, Schumann buffs will be intrigued.

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