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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Te Deum (1805-06)
Missa Solemnis in C major (1806)
Patricia Wright (soprano)
Zan McKendree-Wright (alto)
Patrick Power (tenor)
David Griffiths (bass)
Donald Armstrong (violin solo in Sanctus of the Missa Solemnis)
TOWER Voices New Zealand
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
Recorded Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, February 2003
NAXOS 8.557193 [56.59]


Hummel wrote five Mass settings between 1804 and 1808 when he was employed as Konzertmeister (on the ailing Haydn’s recommendation) at the Esterházy Court. The Te Deum is dated 1st January 1806 on the autograph and was apparently written to mark a Peace Treaty – conjecturally the Treaty of Pressburg which marked the end of the war between Napoleon’s France and the Austro-Russian alliance following the former’s crushing victory at Austerlitz. There is some doubt however whether the work was performed at Eisenstadt at all since it doesn’t appear in the archives. Whatever the catalyst, and whether performed at the royal court or not, this is a work that leaps from the pages with really defiant and arresting momentum. At only twelve minutes in length it is concise and fairly straightforward formally – though Hummel does, unusually, reintroduce short phrases later on. We start with an arresting little trumpet call-to-arms motif and a Mannheim type crescendo that prefigures much of the constantly swelling and withdrawing orchestral patina. Hummel laces the score with crescendi and a palpable sense of anticipation is always with us. The simplicity and vibrancy of the Sanctus vies with the flute decoration as features of the utmost distinction. Throughout, the orchestration is enlivening and Hummel gives the chorus plenty of vivacious runs as well as more plangent material reminiscent of Haydn’s Masses; the most impressive part is the unaccompanied section for the chorus toward the end of the Te Deum.

The Missa Solemnis was finished shortly after the Te Deum and written for a Royal Wedding between an Esterházy and a Liechtenstein – an alliance of considerable wealth and power. Again, as with the companion setting, the Missa Solemnis is a work of considerable ingenuity and melodic distinction, enlivened by varied and imaginative scoring. The winding string and wind lines and the homophonic choral parts are quite distinctive and the punchy brass acts as an underlying theme. Hummel shows again here how adeptly he vests the music, specifically the Gloria, with a changeable sense of direction. This gift is expanded still further in the sense of kaleidoscopic mutation generated in the Credo – full of the utmost freedom and flexibility. The soloists appear in the Sanctus where they are joined by the solo violin of David Armstrong and, as the notes relate, though it’s not explicit in the score it seems not impossible that the soloists continued in the Benedictus – as they do in this recording. Some of the solo writing does sound a mite generic but against that we can admire the consoling harmonies of the concluding Agnus Dei with its unexpectedly apt and inventively vibrant fugato and its splendidly noble Dona nobis pacem.

It’s worth noting that these are the premiere recordings of both works in the editions prepared by Allan Bradley, whose notes are convincing and eloquent. There may be a few untidy corners in some of the solo voices but the performances as a whole are spirited and thoroughly engaging.

Jonathan Woolf

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