Kay Johannsen / Stiftsphilharmonie Stuttgart

Schubert: Messe in As-Dur

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The Stiftsphilharmonie Stuttgart cultivates the ability to give performances on both Baroque and modern instruments, depending on repertoire. You might expect this rendition of the Schubert Mass in A flat major, D. 678, to show the influence of historical-instrument approaches, and so it does, in the best way, with perfectly transparent instrumental textures. The sound engineering backs up the aims of the performers to the hilt. This mass, begun in 1819, completed over a three-year period, and subsequently revised (it is the final version from 1825 that is performed here), is the most ambitious of Schubert's six settings, with the Gloria and Credo leading up in harmonically complex sonata-like movements to vast fugal finales. Schubert intended the mass for an imperial dedication, and it is of appropriate splendor, with a remarkable spiritual tone in the smaller movements setting off the formality of the larger structures. Conductor Kay Johannsen, and, one can add, recording producer Michael Sandner, open up wide spaces and let the music fill it in. The dynamic range is impressive, with the soloists seeming to come from a distance when they first enter, but with Schubert's complex writing for brasses and winds revealed in great detail. The superbly warm sound of the Stuttgarter Kantorei, one of Germany's remarkable regional choirs, is perfectly integrated with the orchestra and with the solo quartet, and the impact of the whole is very strong. There are versions of this mass that emphasize its Schubertian lyricism to a greater degree, but few that give it greater overall weight. Informative and evocative booklet notes are given in German, French, and English. A standout release from Stuttgart's Carus label.

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