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The seasonal flavour of the Lucerne Easter Festival, coupled with the kind of high orchestral standards familiar from its larger summertime counterpart, can produce results as rewarding as they are unusual. Hearing Mariss Jansons conduct a major choral work by Gounod, for instance. Those who find the moments of apotheosis that touch Gounod’s operas with religiosity a bit hokey will no doubt look askance at his Saint Cecilia Mass, where they are present in concentrated form. Jansons takes no such view, however, judging from a reading that drew strength from the work’s rich fount of melody and took seriously its broad expressive vocabulary – from plainchant-like utterances to grand, frankly operatic choral pronouncements. More than once, Gounod strove for otherworldly sonorities, the unusually quiet opening of the Gloria being a case in point, where disembodied sounds from the soprano soloist floated above tremolo strings, and Jansons ensured that such moments worked maximum effect. He drew singing from the excellent Bavarian Radio Chorus, which was was variously supple and full-bodied as needed, and if the Bavarian Radio Orchestra was frequently reduced to supplying triplet-based accompanimental figures, it was for a musically good cause.

The programme opened with Schubert’s Mass in G, a 20-minute work at polar opposites to “heavenly length” Schubert extolled by Schumann. The work’s economy of means emerged as an asset here: straightforward block-chordal sonorities, affectionately shaped by Jansons, sounded touching in their simplicity. As in the Gounod, Luba Orgonásová’s exquisitely focused soprano dominated the solo work, but she was ably complemented by tenor Christian Elsner and bass Gustáv Beláèek.

Between the two masses came Haydn’s Symphony No. 93 in D, a work without a nickname, at least in polite circles – that loud note from the bassoon in the second movement may suggest that Mozart was not alone in his fondness for scatological humor. Like Jansons’s spectacular Mahler Seventh the night before, the performance served notice of excellent things going on in Munich with Jansons and this orchestra. His Haydn neither aped period practice nor reacted against it. It just sounded natural and responded alertly to the drama in the music, from the first harmonic shift in the slow introduction to the zing that Jansons gave the final chord.
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