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.