Double play

Bruckner: Mass No 3 in F Minor; Te Deum Mozart-Chor, Linz; London Philharmonic / Welser-Most (EMI 5 56168 2)
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Few passages in music afford such an open view of the heavens as the first bars of Bruckner's Te Deum. So much is riding on those oscillating fourths and fifths, those sky-high choral unisons - a universal belief: one voice, one faith. It's plainchant finding power in proclamation, it's the musical embodiment of the words "And it came to pass". The power of suggestion is greater than mere dimension, far greater than the sum of the notes on the page. But it was ever thus with Bruckner. Simple man, simple means. Huge conviction. When the solo violin takes flight in seraphic embellishments during the opening "Kyrie" of the Mass in F, it is not Beethoven's Missa Solemnis you think of - nothing so visionary, so lofty, so far-reaching. Bruckner's celestial voice is heaven on earth. And be it ever so humble, it's the directness, the sincerity of his message, his manner, that goes straight to the heart.

In other hands, the violin and viola obbligati that embroider this setting of the words "Et incarnatus est" might be considered naive, cloying even. But Bruckner knows what he means and means what he says. And Franz Welser- Most takes him at his word. It's the absence of piety and sanctimony that characterises, ennobles, these performances, a like-minded sense of honesty and respect. Respect for Bruckner, the symphonist, is, of course, an essential part of that, the feeling that his lovely setting of the "Benedictus", for instance, is part of something bigger and more significant, that it has the makings of or might be flowing towards, a full-blown Bruckner adagio, perhaps.

Welser-Most's choice of choir, the Mozart-Chor from Linz, his (and Bruckner's) neck of the woods, pays off handsomely: a forthright, well-focused, and highly articulate body striding into those resolute fugues, hurling down those mighty blocked unisons like the proverbial tablets of stone. Jane Eaglen is, as ever, a real asset on the top line, while the tenor, Deon van der Walt, tenders a sensitive "Te ergo quaesumus" at the heart of the Te Deum. Welser-Most's inwardness in these minor-key episodes is in marked contrast to the roaring ceremonial of his organ-buttressed tuttis. He does an excellent job of terracing those tuttis, nailing the points of release, defining the sound in such a way as to keep the textures open. EMI's engineering plays its part, too. Very impressive. The choir might, perhaps, have found a little more for their heartstopping a cappella cry of "non confundar in aeternum", but the final stretta romps home gloriously, sopranos sitting jubilantly on that top C, not wishing they were there from a semi-tone below. ES

No sooner had Franz Welser-Most announced his decision to quit London than he started getting enthusiastic reviews - for his recordings at least. Ironic, yes, but his Schmidt Fourth Symphony (also EMI) was special - a product of real maturity. And so too is this. Welser-Most seems to have realised a great truth about Bruckner: that the dramatic is as important as the contemplative; in fact it is the way the two are opposed that makes the music unique. Welser-Most can be very expressive, allowing the music time to take the deep breaths it needs - nowhere more so than than in the opening "Kyrie" of the Mass. Bruckner said that writing this movement was his way of getting through the terrible mental crisis of 1866/7, and you can see something of that in the dark inner intensity of the string- playing at the start. But in the "Gloria" and "Credo" that follow, personal devotion and supplication alternate with muscular, exhilarating praise: taut rhythms, dancing or surging climaxes. Bruckner masses are rarely as exciting as this.

The Te Deum benefits, too. The opening, with chorus, organ and orchestra combined, is massive without being leaden; but neither does Welser-Most push the music. Until the very final pages, the pacing strikes me as just about right. I'm not sure about his handling of the difficult gear change at the end, but it sounds exciting enough, with the choral sopranos rising thrillingly to their high C - fortunately, none of the slightly frayed quality one finds in a few of the long-sustained high notes earlier on. Excellent solo singing, notably from soprano Jane Eaglen, and an atmospheric but clear church acoustic - well caught by the recording team - complete an outstanding Bruckner issue. SJ