Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies

Georg Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies
Church Sonatas by Bertali, Schmelzer, Biber
Cappella Murensis, Les Cornets Noirs, Johannes Strobl
Audite 97.539. 71’36

Muffat: Missa in Labore Requies; Bertali: Sonata a 13, Sonata Sancti Placidi a 14; Biber: Sonata VI a 5, Sonata VIII a 5; Schmelzer: Sonata XII a 7;

Muffat: Missa in labore requiesGeorg Muffat is one of the most interesting composers of the high Baroque period, not least because of his ability to combine musical genres from many different countries. Born in Savoy, he studied with Lully in Paris before becoming organist in Strasbourg Cathedral before moving to Vienna, Prague and then Salzburg, where he worked with Biber in the court of the Prince Archbishop. After further study in Rome he moved to Passau. It was there that we find the first mention of the monumental Missa in Labore Requies, Muffat’s only surviving sacred work. The score came into Haydn’s hands, passing on his death into the Esterházy archives and final to the National Library in Budapest.

Until 1991 it was almost completely ignored, with doubt as whether Muffat was the composer, and the reason for its composition is still in doubt. It is a grand work lasting about 46 minutes, scored for 24 voices in two vocal and three instrumental choirs of five trumpets and timpani (the Trompetenconsort Innsbruck); two cornets and three trombones;  and two violins, three viols and continuo; with no fewer than five organs (Les Cornets Noirs). Muffat’s use of these large resources is masterly, with contrasts between solo sections and grand tutti choruses for the whole ensemble. This is clearly a celebratory work, but also includes some delightful little moments, an early one being the opening of the Gloria with its repeated antiphonal cries of Pax, Pax, Pax. Such a work could have been performed either in Salzburg or Passau, each having a large central space, Salzburg with four organs on balconies at the corners of the central space.

This CD was recorded in the Abbey Church of Muri, south west of Zurich in Switzerland, where the conditions of its first performance, whether in Salzburg or Passau, can be recreated in the large octagonal central space with its four galleries. The two main organs on either side of the chancel entrance are two of the three historical Bossart organs in the Abbey, built in 1743 as part of a major Rococco redesign of the mediaeval Abbey church. They are joined by three small continuo organs. The three instrumental groups are in front, the two vocal choruses singing from the rear galleries.

As their name suggests, the choir is the professional choir of Muri Abbey, founded by the organist, and director of this CD Johannes Strobl. The eight soloists are excellent, and the 16-strong ripieno choir make an impressive contribution.  The two main organs make themselves heard in a way that is entirely authentic, but is often missing from modern performances of church music, relying on little continuo organs.

The instrumental playing from Les Cornets Noirs is outstanding. The recording is rounded off by five instrumental Sonata all’ Epistola, intended for use during the Mass. Mozart wrote 17 such pieces while in Salzburg, but the tradition was a much earlier one. These are sensibly placed after the Missa, rather than trying to incorporate them into the Mass.

This must have been a tricky project to record, but Johannes Strobl manages to keep everything together well and brings a sensitive interpretation to music that can be treated as merely bombastic.

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