- Mass No. 17 for soloists, chorus & orchestra in C minor (fragment, "Great Mass"), K. 427 (K. 417a)
Although you would never know it from the extent to which it has been recorded, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Great Mass in C minor" comes down to us incomplete and represents one of his most problematic scores. The two principal scores in which the music is found, namely Mozart's manuscript and a set of parts for a 1783 performance of the piece, have contradictory elements. Aloïs Schmitt of publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel cobbled together a performing version in 1901 ending in the "Benedictus," which has become the standard. Though some second-opinion editions have come along in the meantime, musicologist Robert Levin has sourced original Mozart sketch pages relating to this work that have not been properly understood in the past in creating this new, 2004 edition of the "C minor Mass." In it, Levin has managed to bring forward a complete liturgical mass setting of the kind Mozart likely intended for this work, running nearly a half an hour longer than most other versions. While that is great news for fans of the "Great" "C minor Mass," does longer, in this case, mean "better?" Good question, but first let us survey the performance, which is really quite good. Helmuth Rilling clearly embraces this Levin realization as though it were the original work, infusing it with a sense of conviction and a grave seriousness while managing to avoid sterility or pompousness. The Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart is excellent throughout, and the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart performs the orchestral parts on modern instruments with a typically Mozartian brio and verve. The soloists are good, but it is second soprano Juliane Banse who carries away the top honors here. This Hänssler Classic offering is a very well made recording, though it could stand to be more powerful in louder movements. Moreover, to Levin's handiwork? Although the "C minor Mass" is a "fragment," it is not very "fragmentary." Even in the standard 1901 edition, it runs about 50 minutes, and the work has attained more of a status as something heard, rather than for use in a service. While Levin has brought to it liturgical integrity, the work in its familiar form has the virtue of concision, whereas the new edition gets bogged down in the long series of short, reconstructed movements that make up the "Credo." Nonetheless, musicologists have fans also, and some will not be able to resist the new edition. There is no reason, ultimately, why they should, as Rilling's Mozart/Levin: Mass in C minor is, at its base, a very good performance that does the work justice, without regard to the form in which it is presented.