- Mass for soloists, chorus & orchestra in E flat major, D. 950
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Among Franz Schubert's most admired creations, the "Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D. 950," stands with the last three piano sonatas, the song cycle "Schwanengesang," and the "String Quintet in C major" as achievements of the first order, hardly what one would expect of an ailing composer in his final year. Yet this great mass for five vocal soloists, choir, and orchestra is a bold and innovative work, inspired in its expansive form and abundant counterpoint by Ludwig van Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis," but more liberated in its soaring lyricism, harmonic complexity, and free-ranging modulations, which make it a truly Romantic mass. This 2007 performance by Richard Hickox and the period ensemble Collegium Musicum 90 brings out the richness of Schubert's scoring for an orchestra without flutes, but it features woodwind and brass writing that is exceptionally warm and vibrant on original instruments and modern copies. To the limited extent that Schubert wrote for solo voices in this work, soprano Susan Gritton, mezzo-soprano Pamela Helen Stephen, tenors Mark Padmore and James Gilchrist, and bass Matthew Rose turn in eloquent performances, though the bulk of the setting is for the choir. Hickox elicits smooth lines and blended harmonies from the voices and instruments, and strikes a fine balance between austerity and sentimentality in this reading, qualities that are apparent in Schubert's sacred music but that need control to avoid seeming severe on the one hand or maudlin on the other. Chandos has captured the performance with clarity and warmth, and the acoustics of London's St. Jude-on-the-Hill are resonant without seeming overly blurred or hazy.