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In response to my youthful over-enthusiasm for an LP containing the Final from Vierne’s Organ Symphony no.1 by a nameless organist (OK, E. Power Biggs), my organ teacher Richard Galloway remarked laconically, ‘Well, the best that can be said is that it is a recording of the music…’ And that’s the best that can be said of this video of Weber’s Missa Sancta no.1, nicknamed ‘Freischützmesse’ for no better reason than that it is contemporaneous with the composer’s famous opera. Written for an 1818 name-day service in Dresden Cathedral for King Friedrich August I of Saxony, the Mass enjoyed a ‘sensational’ premiere, at least according to Weber, who had no previous form in the composition of liturgical music; the grateful king tipped him a diamond ring for his trouble. Weber clearly builds on historical models to produce a work which is characteristically colourful but overwhelmingly sombre in mood. Because of the muddy reverberation in the Cathedral, Weber allotted the bulk of the solo work to the soprano, taken here with style and precision by Krisztina Laki. But in spite of the best efforts of her fellow soloists and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the enterprise is kyboshed by conductor Horst Stein, who allows not an iota of emotional engagement to impinge on his brisk efficiency. Stone by name and … you can fill in the rest. Director Hugo Käch evidently agrees, consigning the conductor to occasional functional acknowledgements from a static conductor-cam.

What a pity this 1986 live concert recording from the Basilica of Waldsassen wasn’t conducted by Rafael Kubelík, who has charge of a 1982 live performance of Haydn’s joyous ‘Cecilia’ Mass in the even more alluring baroque environs of the Ottobeuren Basilica. Director Käch actually achieves more with one less camera than at Waldsassen, thanks to a combination of the overwhelmingly picturesque setting and the peerless energy, style and animation of the always watchable Kubelík, justifiably loved by the camera throughout this engaging performance. And there are Rolls-Royce soloists: Popp, Soffel and Moll, though the smoothly mellifluous Laubenthal seems unsure of his part at times. For obvious reasons, concert videos capture a moment in time with more layers of interest than an audio recording alone can manage – it’s about styles: not just the application here of a symphony orchestra, nimble enough, to a field of music now colonised by historically informed performance ensembles; but also the big hair and big glasses, the heavy make-up, the moustaches and beards in the chorus; and the video direction.

Vastly improved camera picture technology, but also the dollies and jibs which can move cameras smoothly around in three dimensions mean that in today’s concert relays, shots are constantly in motion (often with the performers at the still centre) in seamless fluidity; in the 1980s, directors could only manage a few, sometimes jerky, pans and zooms, with more or less picturesque cutaways to add interest. No shortage of these at Ottobeuren; an atmospheric touch is added as performers and audience freeze respectfully at the conclusion of the Haydn, while the Basilica bell tolls.

GRAEME KAY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing