This is my first experience withe period conductor Paul McCreesh after reading about him for some years. The new Penguin Guide gives his recent "Messiah" a rave, but it's difficult to judge a British conductor or composer by Penguin Guide standards. Here McCreesh leads sopranos Camilla Trilling and Sarah Connolley, his own Gabriell Consort and Players in Mozart's "Great" C Minor Mass K. 427.
I came to grips with this mass while driving in Michigan's Upper Peninsula in 1978 and playing Colin Davis's recording in my 1977 Pontiac Bonneville equipped with an AM-FM-Cassette-CB (citizens band radio) which, let me tell you, was all the rage in the late 1970s! The sound system was pretty good, hiss and all, and it gave me an up close perspective on the music. Since then I've emotionally compared every recording of the music to Davis's, which was a watershed for me.
I would characterize McCreesh's approach to the score as more of a toe-tapper than a hummer and being heavily accented, even driven. This is most apparent in the choral sections, especially the closing Sanctus and Benedictus. In addition, McCreesh closes the Credo's "descendit de coelis" pages with heavy accents that end with timpani slams.
Meanwhile, this score -- written by Mozart with his then new bride, a soprano, in mind -- gives the women a chance to show their wares and compete with the greatest sopranos of the recording era. Connolley sings the "Laudamus te" where she is very good. Close miking gives you every opportunity to hear her pyrotechnics and excellent breath control.
Tilling sings the more famous "Et incarnatus est", one of Mozart's greatest coloratura soloes taht finds a place on most sopranoes' commercial CDs. Like Connolley before her, Tilling is miked closely and makes the most of her opportunity, singing with passion, pitch, clarity and expression. Her closing quartet with the flute, oboe and bassoon soloists is a highlight of the performance. The ladies again do very well in the "Dominus Deus" of the Gloria.
In fact, everyone does well on this CD. Outside an occasioonal wan soprano entry, the chorus is excellent from beginning to end with outstanding diction, enunciation and Latin. The orchestra plays well and organist Tim Roberts gives a nice closing touch at the end of the Kyrie and in other sections where his instrument can be heard.
And the recording, while not SACD, is state of the art. Recorded in Walthamstow Town Hall in November 2004, the DDD recording gives a sound field that is deep, resonant, clear and precise. A pair of dramatic scenes (mini-operas) by Haydn and Beethoven (Ah! Perfido) round out a well-filled CD.
The notes focus on the incomplete nature of the mass, given that it was finished without an Agnus Dei section, and discuss the history of the two scenes. The one by Haydn was written and premiered during his London trip in 1795 and first appeared on a concert with two selections from an opera, the "Military" symphony, and the premeire of the composer's "London" symphony.
"If there was one concert I would like to have been at in a previous life, this is the one!" McCreesh says in the notes. That's probably not going to happen but you are blessed by being able to hear this concert anytime you want on your home, office or car music system.
I think this performance is a step up from the one I've been listening to for a number of years, a Decca recording led by Christopher Hogwood and featuring the late Arleen Auger and Lynne Dawson in the female roles. This one is better played, more dramatic, and certainly sounds better. It would be a good addition to your collection, too.