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ROBERT SCHUMANN - Missa Sacra, op. 147 - Vier doppelchörige Gesange, op. 141 - Les Cris de Paris Chorus and Orchestra - Geoffroy Jourdain (Director) - 3149028024524 - Released: January 2013 - Aparté AP044

There used to be a conventional wisdom that the music of Schumann's last years is not up to much, presumably on account of his mental illness. Perhaps the centrepiece of this prejudice is the fact that his 1853 Violin Concerto was rejected by Joachim, to whom it was dedicated, and was not included in the "complete" Schumann edition compiled by Brahms. It was not released to the public until 1934.

But there are other late works that have suffered from the prejudice, among them the two choral compositions included on this CD.

The Missa Sacra is a setting of the conventional Latin Mass with the addition of an Offertorium, a beautiful setting of the Marian hymn, Tota pulchra es. It is a robust piece, less romantic and emotive than most of the music for which Schumann is better known. It seems to reflect in part the composer's reverence for Beethoven's Missa Solemnis; at about 45 minutes, it is far more concise than the Beethoven, though, and poses fewer difficulties for the listener and, especially, the performers.

The Missa is for soloists, chorus and orchestra, but the Vier doppelchörige (Four Double Choruses) are a capella and more directly appealing. The texts are by Rükert, Göthe and von Zedlitz and are excellent vehicles for Schumann's beautiful and persuasive settings.

Les Cris de Paris is a young ensemble of young musicians who have been resident since 2010 at the Royaumont Foundation, located in a 13th-century Cistercian abbey outside of Paris. From the photographs in the CD booklet, it appears to be a beautiful place and the acoustics of the refectory, where these recordings were made, seem to be outstanding.

Richard Todd - May 2013