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  Founder: Len Mullenger

Johann Michael HAYDN (1737-1806)
Missa pro defuncto Archiepiscopo Sigismundo MH 154 [34:25]
Sinfonia MH 334 P 16 [15:17]
Sinfonia MH 82/184 P 9 [12:43]
Johannette Zomer, soprano
Helena Rasker, alto
Markus Schäfer, tenor
Klaus Mertens, bass
Choeur de Chambre Suisse, Fritz Naef directing
Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne/Christian Zacharias
Recorded at Salle Métropole Lausanne on 6-8 October, 2003 DDD
MDG 340 1245-2 [62:45]


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Michael Haydn may be one of the great footnotes of baroque music. Overshadowed by the genius of his brother, Joseph Haydn, and limited in circulation to the Salzburg court, his works have been largely forgotten. Although Mozart seems to have found him impressive and inspirational, his works are not widely recorded today. In cases such as this it is often necessary to have truly spectacular recordings created to generate interest in an artist that has been unfairly forgotten.

This is just such a recording. Not a note is missed; the direction of Christian Zacharias is very good, the interpretations of the vocalists are very much in keeping with what one would expect. The orchestra plays brilliantly and flawlessly. This is Haydn as he himself would have intended. There is not a single moment where this recording fails to deliver these baroque masterpieces in all of their refined glory. Each work would be considered a masterwork if they had been written by his more famous sibling, thus exposed to a broader audience.

The Requiem, presented first on this recording, is the work of Michael Haydn as a younger man. In it he quotes from the plainchant that these works were intended to supplant in worship. However, this is not a criticism in any way, as the practice of the day was to do exactly that in order to not jar the listener too much. The resulting work is remarkable in any case, and the modern listener would never think to criticize Haydn either for the broad melodic quoting or for the brilliant liberties taken. It begins as a dark piece, brooding for its time, with intelligent and moving use of brass and strings. Throughout the work, the chorus is used brilliantly and the soloists are utilized perfectly. One must be impressed at the early maturity of this man, and at the brilliance of this work.

As Haydn matured, he was hired to work for the same Salzburg courts that employed Mozart to be their concertmaster. The latter two works are from this era of his life, when he was devoting himself to instrumental music. They are both fine examples of pre-Beethoven symphonies. Indeed, both works can be considered remarkable in some places for their uncommonly expressive use of trumpet ensemble and timpani.

This is a recording well worth exploring, as the material is delightful and inspired, feels comfortingly familiar, and yet is generally unknown. This is exactly the type of rediscovered gem that the true lover of classical music will find remarkable. It is a great injustice that so fine a composer as Michael Haydn would be so forgotten, especially in light of the continued recognition of his brother. One can hope that he will here be rediscovered by the modern listener. Certainly the modern listener will find the exploration rewarding.

Patrick Gary

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