The release of the 1985 Vienna Philharmonic performance of Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” under Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989) was issued by Telemondial in 1990. This label was owned by the deceased conductor. Subsequently, this performance has been reissued by Sony on DVD, as a part of the “His Legacy for Home Video” series.
On this particular occasion, the performance of this 1779 Mozart composition was inserted into an actual High Mass, celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope John Paul II (1920-2005). As communion was offered, roughly one-half of this approximately 58-minute DVD was devoted to the music. The remainder of the footage was of the High Mass, celebrated by the Pope in Latin, along with other soloists, the choir and the congregation.
Joining von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic were members of the Vienna Singverein, soprano Kathleen Battle (1948-), mezzo-soprano Trudeliese Schmidt (1942-2004), tenor Gösta Winbergh (1943-2002), and bass Ferrucio Furlanetto (1949-). The singing from these soloists was fabulous, with standout performances from Battle and Winbergh. Battle had the lion’s share of the singing in this work, and I’ve never heard a more beautiful soprano voice in her particular Fach.
The camerawork and shot angles were very limited where certain orchestral sections and the chorus were concerned, which was typical of videos from this era. It was not surprising that von Karajan’s conducting was beautifully shot, as he seemed to exude a sense of fervor, while literally sculpting the music with his hands. This interpretation emphasized the grandeur of the music which was entirely appropriate, given the occasion and setting.
It’s too bad that English subtitles were only applied to Mozart’s music and not the entire High Mass. Of course, the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica was breathtaking, and the entire affair could and should be referred to as a “religious experience.” As the service was filmed for Italian television, all of the credits listed were in Italian.