> Joseph Haydn - Schopfungsmesse [GPJ]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Joseph HAYDN (1732 – 1809)
Schöpfungmesse, Hob. XXII:13 ("Creation Mass")

Ruth Ziesak, soprano, Bernarda Fink, alto, Christopher Prégardien, tenor, Oliver Widmer, bass.
CD 2
Harmoniemesse, Hob. XXII:14

Joanne Lunn, soprano, Sara Mingardo, alto, Topi Lehtipuu, tenor, Brindley Sherratt, bass.
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque
Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
Recorded at The Colosseum, Watford, UK, Feb. 9-11 1998 (CD1), November 20-24 2001 (CD2)
PHILIPS 470 297 [CD1: 41:21; CD2: 43:02]


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This is the first issue in what promises to be a fine series of the late Haydn masses by Gardiner and his forces. Haydn’s last six masses are at least comparable with the twelve Salomon symphonies in terms of their greatness and musical inventiveness. Like many of the symphonies, they too carry tantalising soubriquets. In the case of the two recorded here, one nickname is trivial, the other a valid description. The former is the "Creation Mass", which owes this appellation to a fleeting reference to a duet from Haydn’s own oratorio, The Creation. This quotation crops up in the Gloria of the mass, and apparently caused Haydn some difficulty with the Empress Maria Thérèse. She insisted on its excision (incidentally Richard Hickox’s excellent recording includes a performance of the Gloria in this bowdlerised version).

The title Harmoniemesse should be translated as ‘Wind-Band Mass’, and refers to the large and prominently used wind section in the work. This is Haydn’s final mass, and surely one of his supreme achievements. I have long been an admirer of John Eliot Gardiner’s conducting of choral and orchestral music, and found his version of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis to be ideal. These Haydn works provide the context for a fuller understanding of Beethoven’s later masterpiece. Many of the expressive emphases and touches of word-painting indicate a tradition that went back to Bach and beyond, and of which the Missa Solemnis was arguably the final summit.

Gardiner has used quite different quartets of soloists for the two works, both excellent and well balanced. In each mass, the soprano has the larger part of the limelight, though not as prominently as in the Nelson Mass. My own preference here is for the slightly stronger colouring Ruth Ziesak. She brings real authority and dignity to the opening of the Schöpfungmesse. Joanne Lunn is very sweet-toned, but rather too reticent for this very direct music. On the other hand, Brindley Sherratt, a bass of impeccable credentials and educational background, is in fine voice in the Harmoniemesse, while Sara Margado brings delightfully supple phrasing to the Gratias agimus solo.

The Monteverdi Choir are in fine voice throughout both masses. Gardiner has encouraged them to produce big, imposing sounds for such movements as the Kyrie of the Harmoniemesse or the Crucifixus of the Schöpfungmesse. Yet in the gloriously athletic fugal sections that crop up regularly in each work, they sing with fabulous lightness and suppleness, attentive to every expressive twist in the music. The English Baroque Soloists, playing on period instruments of course, are as stylish as you would expect. I fear I have to admit, though, to being disappointed in the tone of the woodwind soloists. I’m not sure if it’s the players or the recording that is to blame, but many of the delightful details of scoring are either indistinct or pretty well inaudible. Horns, trumpets and drums, on the other hand, come over to fine effect.

The speeds are often on the brisk side - indeed, some listeners may be taken aback by the extremely quick speed for the Benedictus in the Harmoniemesse. I love it at this speed; the music acquires an irresistibly jazzy bounce, and Haydn has after all marked it Allegro molto (‘very fast’). To balance this, Gardiner has set appropriately broad tempi for passages such as the opening Kyrie in each piece.

If you are not familiar with these late Haydn masses, surely among the pinnacles of Western sacred music, now seems the perfect time to make their acquaintance, as Gardiner and company begin this important new venture.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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