Louis Spohr’s Singular Mass in C minor

Louis Spohr’s Mass in C minor is something of a curiosity. Finished in 1821, it’s the only such work in Spohr’s catalog of over 230 compositions. And it’s also an a capella work, written for two choirs plus SATB soloists.

Stylistically, the mass reminded me a little of Mendelssohn. There’s a clarity of line throughout the movements. The melodies have a simple elegance to them, with harmonies that look forward to the Romantic. And there are skillfully written polyphonic passages clearly inspired by Bach.

The Kammerchor Stuttgart, directed by Frieder Bernius, have a warm, full sound that fits the music stylistically. My only complaint is that the sopranos sometimes sounded a little too bright to completely blend into the ensemble.

Works such as this may have been written for worship services, but they’re often performed in a concert setting. The four soloists, Maria Bernius, soprano, Carolina große Darrelmann, alto, Tobias Mäthger, tenor, and Felix Rathgeber, bass have a seamless vocal blend and collectively sing in a straight-forward, unadorned fashion. The performance places this work in the sanctuary (where it was heard originally), rather than the concert hall. I think it’s a good call.

When I listen to Spohr’s symphonies and string quartets, I hear the influence of Beethoven (who was a colleague). This recording I hear more of a resemblance to Schubert and Mendelssohn — and some darned good choral writing.

Louis Spohr: Mass, Op. 54; Psalms, Op. 85
Maria Bernius, soprano; Julia Diefenbach, mezzo-soprano;
Carolina große Darrelmann, alto; Tobias Mäthger, tenor;
Simon Tischler, bass (op. 85); Felix Rathgeber, bass (op. 54)
Kammerchor Stuttgart; Frieder Bernius
Carus 83.291

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