Muffat: Missa In labores requies

Bertali, Schmelzer, Biber: Church sonatas
Cappella Murensis, Les Cornets Noirs
audite 97.539

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]his is the third recording of Muffat’s only surviving liturigcal work that I know of; Cantus Cölln (the first) filled their disc with Biber’s setting of the Litany for St Joseph and sonatas by Biber and Bertali, then Gunar Letzbor used boys for the upper parts and saw no need to pad out the recording. The present version has women sopranos but is a disc of two halves – the added sonatas (by Biber, Bertali and Schmelzer) are performed in an arch-like sequence after the mass. Audite’s recordings are always of exceptional quality and the principle interest of this recording will be for audio geeks who will be thrilled by the positioning of the five “choirs” in different parts of the abbey in Muri where the sessions were held.

[Video in German, subtitled in English]

Surround sound is available as an HD download. For me, though, the whole thing is slightly phoney since Muffat’s contemporaries can never have heard it in such perfection; quite apart from the fact that the resonance must have been affected by the presence of a congregation and the assembled clergy and royalty (although I don’t think the author quite wants to believe what he is writing, the booklet notes give convincing reasons why the piece was more likely written for Passau than Salzburg; though someone should have checked the date Haydn’s death…), the mass was never intended to be an unbroken sequence, and there would have been other music in the service. That said, these are outstanding performances with the trumpets, cornetti and sackbutts, string band and two vocal choirs resounding splendidly in the space. The sonatas – which, incidentally, illustrate perfectly that Biber’s music did not just happen in a vacuum; he learned a thing or two from both the other composers! – show Les Cornets Noirs at their glorious best.

Brian Clark

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