Schubert's Mass no. 6 in E flat major requires a substantial outpouring of resources. In addition to five world-class soloists who don't really have all that much to do, a successful performance demands a large chorus and a surplus of musicians in every section of the orchestra. Perhaps that accounts for its relative scarcity; before The Cleveland Orchestra brought the work to Carnegie Hall on 18th January, it was last heard there in 1997.

The Cleveland Orchestra in Carnegie Hall
© Chris Lee

Franz Welser-Möst, on the other hand, programmed it as recently as 2019 on the orchestra's home turf at Severance Hall. The performance demonstrated his affinity and mastery of this occasionally confounding piece. The string tone remained bright throughout, despite massive overlays, and individual details were never slighted. It shines primarily as a choral display, and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, prepared by Lisa Wong, flaunted expertly controlled dynamics and skillful blending at all points, so that even the compulsory face masks didn't occlude the text. Welser-Möst directed them as if he were playing a single instrument – the final phrases of the Cum sancto Spiritu were so perfectly tapered that you almost didn't notice their conclusion – but the effect was immersive rather than Martinet-like.

Franz Welser-Möst, Joélle Harvey, Daryl Freedman, Julian Prégardien and Dashon Burton
© Chris Lee

The vocal soloists limned the worlds of historically-informed performance and contemporary practice in intriguing ways. Soprano Joélle Harvey employed vibrato in the Et incarnatus est section of the Credo that seemed more like a stylistic choice than a crutch, while tenor Julian Prégardien was musically scrupulous. Prégardien's reedy sound contrasted nicely with Martin Mitterutzner's chestnut-rich tone, and Daryl Freedman's opulent mezzo-soprano filled the auditorium with ease, which compensated for the occasional textual smudginess. Only bass-baritone Dashon Burton sounded overparted and receded into the texture of the ensembles without much distinction.

Franz Welser-Möst conducts The Cleveland Orchestra
© Chris Lee

Welser-Möst prefaced the Mass with a fascinating fusion. He wedged the two movements of Schubert's Symphony no. 8 in B minor – the "Unfinished" Symphony – between three passages from Alban Berg's Lyric Suite that the composer re-orchestrated for string orchestra. The mashup failed to suggest a unified whole; rather, the listener gravitated toward recognizing influence in the performance practices. The Schubert's Allegro moderato took on a jagged edge that seemed to transfer directly from Berg's Andante amoroso. Berg's Allegro misterioso was so hushed it sounded like the final breath of a Schubert postlude. The stately Andante con moto that concludes the Eighth was shot through with a disconcerting tension, making it an ideal introduction to Berg's Allegro appassionato, which sounded insistent to the point of obsession.

****1