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Johann Baptist VANHAL (1739-1813)
Missa Pastoralis in G Major [33.49]
Missa Solemnis in C Major [34.40]
Mary Enid Haines (sop); Nina Scott Stoddart (alto); Colin Ainsworth (ten); Steven Pitkanen (bass).
TOWER Voices New Zealand
Aradia Ensemble, conducted by Uwe Grodd
Recorded in St. John's Cathedral, Napier, New Zealand.
Recording date: 30 July to 1 August, 2000
NAXOS 8.555080 [68.28]

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Johann Baptist Vanhal (or Wanhal) was born in Bohemia. The otherwise excellent notes accompanying this CD could, perhaps, have told us more about his life. From other sources I have discovered that he was at some stage a pupil of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) and that Vanhal himself taught both in Venice and in Vienna where he died in 1813.

It seems that many of his works were performed at Esterhaza by Haydn and that link is apposite since the two Masses here recorded are likely to appeal to anyone who enjoys Haydn's own settings of the Mass. Vanhal composed some 50 Mass settings. This is a prodigious number by any standards but is all the remarkable since he was never in the employment of a church.

The Missa Solemnis is the earlier of the settings on this disc. The date of composition is uncertain but the work had been written by 1778. The orchestral scoring is for pairs of oboes and trumpets, timpani, organ and strings. At various points both the first violinist and the organist enjoy important obbligato roles. In terms of style and form the mass is pretty typical of its period and I do not mean that in a pejorative sense. To be sure, Vanhal works within the conventions of the time but he does so to good effect. His setting is not only fresh; it is properly joyful or reflective at the appropriate moments. I should think it is most enjoyable to perform. That is certainly the impression conveyed by the artists here.

The Missa Pastoralis is probably a slightly later work. It had been composed by 1782 and it is scored for similar forces. Like its companion it receives a thoroughly well prepared and convincing performance.

This admirable CD represents an interesting international collaboration. The Aradia Ensemble, who play on period instruments, are based in Toronto. The ensemble was formed in 1995. Three years later TOWER Voices, a 32-strong choir came into being. This evidently expert group draws singers from all over New Zealand. To judge by their performances here the choir is bright toned and flexible and their Canadian colleagues provide stylish and alert accompaniments. All four soloists are Canadian. They do not have tremendously big roles to sing here but they are effective: I particularly enjoyed the singing of the two ladies. The conductor, Uwe Grodd, is German born but he is now based in New Zealand. His direction is lively and clear.

A thoroughly enjoyable disc, with good quality sound. I have one small quibble: it is a pity that there is no separate track listing. Otherwise the documentation is good and informative (the author of the notes also prepared the performing editions of the works used in this recording). It is well worth investigating this unfamiliar music, particularly at Naxos price.

John Quinn

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