Various Artists

Schubert Masses

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While one would like to believe that these performances of Schubert's sacred music were the best the musicians could do under the circumstances, the unavoidable truth is that too many of the performers seem only a step up from amateur. The Virtuosi di Praga and the Prague Chamber Orchestra under Andreas Weiser are barely competent in Schubert's first four masses, plus his settings of the Salve Regina and the Magnificat. The chorus' tone is small and their intonation is doubtful. The orchestra's playing is nondescript and their projection is timid. The soloists sound uninvolved and the conductor sounds uninspired. Things improve somewhat, but not enough in Helmuth Rilling's recording of the Fifth Mass with the Oregon Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra. Rilling is an experienced choral conductor and he clearly knows his way around the score, but the Oregon players, while more polished than the Prague players, sound like studio musicians getting through a pop chart than orchestral musicians giving their hearts to great music. Only when Rilling is joined by the Gächinger Kantoreri Stuttgart and the Stuttgart Bach Collegium in the Sixth Mass do the performances rise nearly to the level of the music. The choral singing is more than capable, the orchestral playing is more than adequate, and Rilling seems relaxed enough to let them make great music together. Unfortunately, the level of musicianship goes down again when the Tölzer Knabenchor and the anonymous Bläser Orchester under Gerhard Schmidt-Gaden perform the Deutsches Messe. The Knabenchoir's singing is thin and often out of tune. The Bläser's playing is weak and often flat. Schmidt-Gaden's conducting is at most functional. Listeners looking for a set of Schubert's sacred music are advised to try Wolfgang Sawallisch's collection on EMI. It's not always exciting, but it's at least wholly professional. Originally released between 1975 and 1996 on a wide variety of labels, Brilliant's remastered sound ranges from the dim and distant to the big and loud.

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