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Hyperion Records

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Ely Cathedral (detail) by Thomas Lound (1802-1861)
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67629
Recording details: January 2007
Ely Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2007
Total duration: 36 minutes 52 seconds

'Peace and goodwill would be the order of the day if Father Christmas could hand out to all and sundry copies of Polyphony's recording of the Bruckner's Mass in E minor. No disc I've heard this year comes near it for sheer beauty … Polyphony, whose sound is … smoothly rounded, fully blended and sumptuous … Layton produces such gorgeous sounds from his singers that the overall listening experience is infinitely satisfying … the seven unaccompanied motets are absolute gems. An ethereal account of Ave Maria has a breadth and grandeur which belies its short time-span; as the vocal lines crowd in on each other, the effect is nothing short of electrifying. And popular as it is, if there has to be a 'definitive' interpretation on disc of Locus iste, this has to be it. Put it simply, we're unlikely to hear choral singing as fine as this for a good few years to come' (Gramophone)

'This really excellent offering from Polyphony … Polyphony trumps all others for beauty of tone … in the Benedictus, too, musical sense arises from transparency and intelligent phrasing … the performances of the motets are excellent, too, painting nuanced pictures of these vocally and philosophically stratospheric pieces' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia catch the music's starkness, exaltation and mysticism as movingly as I have heard. This is a searching performance, with soft singing of awed intensity, but also an unusually dramatic one. Stephen Layton never allows Bruckner's music, even at its most unearthly, to become becalmed; and he builds climaxes of molten intensity in, say, the Sanctus, or the fervent motet Christus factus est. A glorious disc of music that strives for, and ultimately attains, a state of transcendent peace' (The Daily Telegraph)

'I wasn’t prepared for the excellence of this program … the musicianship is so sophisticated, so meticulous that it’s impossible not to get swept up in what the singers are doing … what really captures my attention is the spectrum of vocal colors these singers create in pianissimo range … Maestro Layton’s performances inspire the soul even as they break the heart with their intense beauty' (American Record Guide)

'This album finds the composer secure in his spiritual home, serving God in music transcendent. Stephen Layton's reading of the Second Mass articulates sublime, prayer-like qualities routinely overlooked and underplayed by others. The approach … is revelatory, rich in contrasts, fervent outbursts and symphonic tension … an outstanding release' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The performance is strong and characterful: beautifully sung by Polyphony and subtly, imaginatively accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia's wind band … the group sing with ravishing, lustrous tone throughout and phrase and colour magnificently. Their dynamic and dramatic range is great and tension is continually racked up under the baton of Stephen Layton, though never at the expense of vocal purity, profundity of expression or dignity of delivery' (MusicOHM.com)

Mass No 2 in E minor
composer
1866, revised 1876/1882; dedicated fo Joseph Franz Rüdiger, Bishop of Linz
author of text
Ordinary of the Mass

Kyrie  [6'10] LatinEnglish
Gloria  [5'47] LatinEnglish
Credo  [9'05] LatinEnglish

Other recordings available for download
Corydon Singers, English Chamber Orchestra Wind Ensemble, Matthew Best (conductor)
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The Mass No 2 in E minor, with wind accompaniment, was written largely as a sop to the Cecilians, an austere group within the Roman Catholic Church who objected to complexity in liturgical music and deplored the involvement of an orchestra (would they really have accepted the wind instruments?). The work’s concern with slow, floating counterpoint, while referring to Palestrina, yet anticipates the deliberation of Bruckner’s own later processes, and the work conveys a sublimity inaccessible to its companions in D minor and F minor, admirable though they are. This can be felt at once in the opening Kyrie, largely unaccompanied except for the intermittent use of horns and trombones. Long suspensions and clear harmony create a sense of space. In the central section, ‘Christe eleison’, there is more movement and a climax; then the Kyrie returns, this time to make its own climax before fading into vaulted heights.

The Gloria and Credo, on the other hand, are essentially classical allegros, with contrasts of tempo and style dictated by the text. For the most part Bruckner is revelling in the athletic energy familiar from his great predecessors Haydn and Beethoven, but with textures simpler and more spare and rhythms blunter and more naïve. Both movements are in C major and contain central contrasts, the Gloria having a quiet section on ‘qui tollis peccata mundi’ with typical horn phrases, and the Credo a simple but profound treatment of ‘et incarnatus est’ and ‘Crucifixus’, a stream of perfectly formed, dignified melody of great beauty. The Gloria ends with a short but trenchant chromatic fugato on ‘Amen’, and the Credo (whose main theme anticipates strikingly the sturdy power of the scherzo of the eighth symphony of more than twenty years later) reaches its apex in a broad and mighty cadence.

It is in the Sanctus that Palestrina’s influence (in the form of a quotation from the Missa brevis of 1570) is clearest. A two-part canon is enveloped in eight-part counterpoint as a great crescendo is built. The whole movement lasts only a few minutes but has a power of suggestion out of all proportion to its dimensions; such a slow crescendo as this begins some of Bruckner’s greatest symphonic movements, and the tribute to Palestrina is also a glance to the future, not only Bruckner’s own, but also to such things as the magnificent opening pages of Sibelius’s seventh symphony.

The gentle and subtle Benedictus is in full sonata form, its development deeply modulated and its coda a bright burst on ‘Hosanna in excelsis’. The final Agnus Dei delivers the customary threefold prayer, each time as a crescendo, the last quietened to make way for the hushed ‘dona nobis pacem’, perhaps the most beautiful music in the whole work, which is without doubt the deepest and most concentrated of Bruckner’s Masses.

from notes by Robert Simpson © 1985


Other albums featuring this work
'Bruckner: Mass in E minor' (CDH55277)
Bruckner: Mass in E minor
MP3 £4.99FLAC £4.99ALAC £4.99Buy by post £5.50 CDH55277  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Bruckner: Masses' (CDS44071/3)
Bruckner: Masses
MP3 £15.00FLAC £15.00ALAC £15.00Buy by post £16.50 CDS44071/3  3CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  

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