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Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837)
Missa Solemnis
in C major (1806) [44:58]
Te Deum
(1806) [12:01]
Patricia Wright (soprano)
Zan McKendree-Wright (alto)
Patrick Power (tenor)
David Griffith (bass)
Tower Voices New Zealand
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Uwe Grodd
Rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, 3-5 February 2003 DDD
NAXOS 8.557193 [56:59]

I wonder just how many people will have been put-off by seeing a New Zealand orchestra and choir performing a Classical German mass. I used to have this romantic ideal that only the Austrian and German orchestras could play Mahler, Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart, only the Russians could play Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and only an English orchestra could perform Elgar and Vaughan Williams. I now know that holding onto these blinkered principles only serves to deprive the listener of many superbly performed works. Although an orchestra may have a tradition of playing a home-composer’s music it certainly doesn’t have the monopoly on delivering wonderful interpretations. Recent examples of marvellous performances that I have heard on disc include Beethoven from Nashville Tennessee, Rimsky-Korsakov from Malaysia, Bernstein from New Zealand, J.S. Bach from Japan, Shostakovich from Italy and Shostakovich from Australia.

There can be no other composer surrounded by as much great musical talent as Johann Hummel. Mozart took the young Hummel into his home for music tuition and later Hummel received instruction from luminaries such as Clementi, Albrechtsberger, Haydn and Salieri. Furthermore Hummel became acquainted with Beethoven. Surrounded by great masters Hummel had the best possible Classical teachers and became an eminent and brilliant concert pianist undertaking an extensive concert tour of Europe and Russia as well as composing a wide variety of works.

In 1804 Hummel took over from the ageing Haydn as the kapellmeister at the court of Prince Esterhazy. The appointment was not without conflict and tension and Hummel was summarily dismissed following a chaotic episode on Christmas Day 1808 and was reinstated when the Prince relented.

The Prince Nicolaus II of Esterhazy instigated the tradition of having a newly composed Mass performed on the name-day of his wife the Princess Maria Hermenegild. Following in Haydn’s footsteps, Fuchs, Hummel and Beethoven all wrote Masses for the occasion. Hummel composed five settings of the Mass between 1804 and 1808 and the Missa Solemnis in C major was written in 1806 especially for the wedding of the Prince’s daughter, the Princess Maria Leopoldina Esterhazy. To be asked to write a Mass to celebrate what must have been Europe’s ‘society wedding of the year’, given the wealth, fame and rank of the two families concerned, gives a clear indication of the high professional standing that Hummel was held in at that time.

Renowned musicologist Allan Badley who wrote the booklet notes holds the view that Hummel’s Missa Solemnis, "is a worthy successor to the late Haydn Masses. It’s brilliant, inventive and flexible choral writing and technical resourcefulness are the work of an experienced and gifted composer."

Hummel composed the Te Deum in 1806, three months before the Missa Solemnis. It is thought to have been composed at Prince Esterhazy’s behest to celebrate the signing of the Peace Treaty at the end of the war between the Austro-Russian alliance and France following Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz. In the view of Allan Badley the Te Deum, "is an immensely attractive work. The orchestration blazes with primary colours and the choral writing is fluid and attractive. Although relatively short in duration, the Te Deum contains moments of great emotional gravity as well as pure transcendent joy."

Hummel’s reputation was at an all-time low in the 1900s and I have seen various disparaging references to his music lacking substance and emotion. However this wonderful release of world premiere Hummel recordings from Naxos should go a long way to help redress the balance.

The singing from the soloists and the Tower Voices New Zealand is glorious and it is really hard to understand why these wonderful works have not been recorded before now. The richly coloured and sonorous choral singing with beautifully detailed orchestral textures have been successfully recorded in the excellent venue of the Michael Fowler Centre, in Wellington.

In both works from the first bar to the last, a sense of urgency, energy and reverence prevails. There are dedicated contributions from the soloists, chorus and orchestra under the assured direction of the talented and experienced conductor Uwe Grodd who gives a vigorous and forceful reading; high in intensity. This is an excellent release which has a first class recorded sound together with a spectacular cover picture of ‘Christ the Saviour of the world’.

A superbly performed release of wonderful music that deserves to be heard. Another sure-fire winner from the high-flying Naxos stable.

Michael Cookson

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