Michel Corboz

Schubert: Messe no. 6 en mi bémol majeur

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Here's a recording that, to use the terminology of African-American vernacular music, is old school in every way. It begins with a decidedly odd sound, which has a hollow, boxy quality, with distortion at the frequency extremes, that could almost have been heard on a 1950s LP. The booklet indicates that the disc was recorded by Swiss Radio, but it's not clear whether the performance was actually taken from a radio broadcast; even if it was, it's subpar. The list of vintage qualities continues with veteran conductor Michel Corboz and the Ensemble Vocal de Lausanne accompanied by the Chamber Orchestra of Lausanne. Despite the suggestion of modest dimensions in these names, the combined forces are large, maybe not Mormon Tabernacle Choir plus Philadelphia Orchestra large, but bigger than the current fashion for music of the early nineteenth century. And of course the old school hangs on for a good reason: Corboz and his Swiss choristers have a warmth, clarity of articulation, and vigorous response to the text that are hard to find these days. Corboz catches the almost operatic quality of Schubert's final mass, which asks us to believe not in a holy catholic and apostolic church (the composer leaves those words out of the Credo) but that Christ came into the world to the strains of a transcedently beautiful Ländler, sung by a Viennese vocal trio of the streets. Corboz's Schubert deliberately traces outlines of light and shade, lands firmly but not over-heavily on dramatic strokes, and shows the kind of control over large-scale architecture that makes for really good Schubert. The bottom line is that this is a Schubert disc that, though brand new, will feel familiar. Corboz has been doing this kind of performance, and doing it well, for almost 50 years now, and it's still worthwhile even if there are various fresher recordings to choose from.

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