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Briefly Noted: 'Missa In labore requies'

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Muffat, Missa In labore requies, St. Florianer Sängerknaben, Ars Antiqua Austria, G. Letzbor

(released on August 26, 2014)
Pan Classics PC10301 | 47'25"
Georg Muffat (1653–1704) was a Savoyard composer, born in Megève, but he spent time absorbing musical styles in Lully's France, Prague, various places in Corelli's Italy. He ended up serving the Bishop of Passau, where he died and is interred in the cathedral cloister there, a glorious Baroque confection in Lower Bavaria. Along the way, he worked in Salzburg, where he composed this lavish setting of the Latin Ordinary, Missa In labore requies, which since its rediscovery remains Muffat's only surviving major work for the liturgy. This massive piece calls for a double chorus and vast instrumental consort (strings, two demanding cornetti parts, six-part brass chorus, bassoon, two organs, timpani). Muffat used these impressive resources to take advantage of the spatial possibilities in Salzburg Cathedral, approximated in this new recording made in Gurk Cathedral, a Romanesque structure in Carinthia with a reportedly similar acoustic.

The composer's 17th-century approach to church music gives the work a decidedly operatic bent, such as the angels nattering back and forth ("Pax" -- "Pax" -- "Pax") at the start of the Gloria. The choral forces used here, a valiant but often small St. Florianer Sängerknaben, are overpowered too often by the much larger instrumental ones, although the musicians of Ars Antiqua Austria are generally excellent. Big moments, especially combining brass with voices, are effective, as in the wall-shaking "Amen" that ends the Credo with a bang. Still, although there are drawbacks to the wispy sound because of the use of just a few boys on each part, passages like the Credo's Et incarnatus est, with its two solo boys, is an affecting little miniature. It may not be a perfect performance, but it seems to bring one closer to Salzburg in the 17th century. The earlier recording by Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino (Harmonia Mundi, 1999), conducted by Konrad Junghänel, is generally but not uniformly better because of the use of adult voices but not necessarily instrumentally.

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