Johann Simon Mayr – Missa in C justly revived

Johann Simon Mayr wrote almost 70 operas over 600 sacred works. Only a few have been performed since his death in 1845. Based on the quality of the music in this new release, it’s not the quality of the compositions.

“One recognizes the hand of the master in everything, and this work will always remain in our musical archive in the front row with the beautiful masses by outstanding composers such as Haydn, Mozart and Hummel.” That’s what the Kapelmeister who first performed Mayr’s Missa in C
wrote in 1826.

It’s pretty good company. And the work bears up well in the comparison. Mayr’s mass is a big choral work with more than a trace of operatic flair. Similar, I think, to Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle. Mayr exploits the dramatic possibilities of the text. It results in some exciting choral and orchestral passages.

According to the liner notes, Mayr quotes both Beethoven and Donizetti in this work. They’re so well-integrated into the music, you might not notice them. There’s a recurring clarinet obbligato that reminded me somewhat of Weber.

The Stabat Mater dates from 1802, the year Mayr became maestro di cappella at the Cathedral of Bergamo. It’s a more introspective and somber work, reflecting the text. But it also has its share of dramatic gestures, with some superb choral writing.

The recorded sound of the Orpheus Vokalensemble has a luminous beauty. The soloists are in fine form. The Concerto Köln has the transparent blend of an early 19th-century ensemble.

If these are representative samples of Mayr’s catalog, then I want more.

Johann Simon Mayr: Missa in c; Stabat Mater
Katja Stuber, soprano; Marion Eckstein, alto
Fernando Guimarães, tenor; Tareq Nazmi, basso
Orpheus Vokalensemble; Concerto Köln; Florian Helgath, director
Carus 83.480

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