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Fanfare Magazine: 29:3 (01-02/2006)
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Harmonia Mundi

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Reviewer: Brian Robins


There's a saying in London that you wait for ages for a bus on your route, then three come along at once. The history of recording is littered with many analogous situations. Here, hard on the heels of Andrew Parrott's first ever recording of Biber's Missa Christi resurgentis (see the feature review in Fanfare 29:1), is a second recording. Both have in common the use of the recently published version by Andrew Clements (A-R Editions), but there are otherwise two major differences. The more important is that Parrott's version is a full-scale liturgical reconstruction that includes the chanted Collect, and Gospel readings and so forth. Manze includes none of the liturgy, although he does separate the movements of the Mass Ordinary by interpolating instrumental pieces, as indeed was the practice of the day, and his disc is concluded with four sonatas from Biber's 1682 publication Fidicinium sacro-profanum. The other difference is that while Parrott was happy to augment both his “choir“ and instrumental line-up with one ripienist to supplement his fundamentally one-per-part forces in the more climatic passages, Manze, perhaps surprisingly, is not, employing only single voices and instruments per part throughout.

Reactions to these variants will differ, and are of course to a considerable degree subjective. Before hearing a note of the new disc, my own feelings on both issues veer in favor of Parrott's solutions. I agree with him that here (as elsewhere) having the large-scale polychoral movements set off from the liturgy provides contrast and highlights their splendor in greater isolation. As to performer numbers, as was pointed out in the earlier review, Parrott's have iconographical support from a well known engraving of a performance in Salzburg Cathedral in 1682, roughly a decade before the conjectural dating of the Mass. It is also hard to believe that the bigger moments would not have been augmented by ripienists in a building of such substantial proportions.

When it comes to settling down to listening to the Manze, the first impression is of the quite stunning sound the engineers have achieved in London's Temple Church. The opening Fanfare immediately electrifies the listener, the sound of the brass throughout having a thrilling impact that is not matched on the New York recording, with its more recessed sound. The opening of the Kyrie confirms the splendid spatial effect, with the antiphony between the two choirs well defined. With “Christe,“ however, the first doubt creeps in, for Manze's slow tempo and the strong, deep sonority produced by his tenors and basses sounds lugubrious. Manze's timings are in fact slower overall than Parrott's, not as a generality, but in specific passages. The exception is Agnus Dei, where the tempo throughout is markedly and unconvincingly broader on the new disc (4:15 against 3:08), causing problems for the first soprano in particular, whose uncertainty is also highlighted in the radiant solo “Benedictas,“ where she is outshone by Parrott's boy treble, Benjamin Cole. Nevertheless, there are many marvelous moments in Manze's performance, not least the commanding power of his male singers, who at times make their New York counterparts sound distinctly weedy, and the director's marvelous playing of the many violin solos Biber doubtless intended for himself.

Ultimately, the differences are clearly defined. If you don't wish to hear the liturgy, and want a thrillingly virtuosic performance, then Manze is probably your man. Those seeking a more spiritually uplifting experience will be happier with Parrott, whose splendidly judged performance, even without making allowance for the liturgical context, finds a greater sense of light and shade, of contrast between splendor and repose than does Manze, for all the undeniable commitment and fervor of his performance. It is also worth bearing in mind that just over half of the new disc is given over to instrumental music, the four sonatas that come after the Mass running for some 30 minutes. They are splendidly played, pointing up the vivid contrasts to maximum effect, albeit in a manner that to my ears owes more to 18th- than 17th-century expressive devices. Whatever choice you make, make at least one; the Missa Chisti resurgentis is a superb work that demands attention.


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