Egon Wellesz (1885-1974) was born in Vienna to a well-to-do family. His parents' encouragement and Mahler's conducting genius inspired the young man to embark on a musical career which was highly productive and appreciated during his lifetime, but since his demise his music has taken a downward trend. Although a pupil of Schoenberg and classed with Berg and Webern, he was one of the first members of the so-called Second Viennese School to forge an independent path. His compositions include practically all genres, but his outstanding achievements are in the choral field, becoming a renowned professor in the music of early Christianity, Byzantine church music, and Gregorian Chant.
A Catholic convert from Judaism, Wellesz composed a significant amount of sacred music, including five masses, two of which – the first and the last – feature on this CD. The Mass in F minor for chorus and organ is his first setting and dates from 1934. Although entirely tonal, the piece has a wide harmonic range which demonstrates Wellesz's skill in portraying the different human emotions with great mastery, and although far removed from Bruckner's great F Minor Mass, it does seem to have a certain majestic architectural quality. The 1963 Missa Brevis is much shorter and simpler, but its spiritual impact, although more succinct and compact, is nonetheless effective. Three other short pieces complete a programme replete with uplifting ideas and surprisingly mature choral writing.
This is a timely issue in excellent sound and notes that should enhance immensely Wellesz's reputation and put his music at the fingertips of a wider public.
Copyright © 2010, Gerald Fenech.