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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger



Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Harmoniemesse (Harmony Mass) Hob.XXII No 14 (1802)
Te Deum in C Hob.XXIIIc No 2 (1800)
Sandra Piau (soprano), Monika Groop (mezzo), Christoph Prégardien (tenor) Harry van der Kamp (bass)
Choeur de Chambre de Namur
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
rec. Sept 1994, Begijnhofkerk, Ghent, Belgium
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 74321 935492 [51.43]

 


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Haydn’s late, great Mass settings are the logical culmination of his work as a symphonic composer. The Harmoniemesse is the last of the six and was completed in 1802, employing a large orchestra with flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, as well as an organ part. It is from this large and prominent wind section that the name comes; the Austrians referring to wind ensemble music as Harmoniemusik. Like all of Haydn’s late Mass settings there is an inherent confidence and certainty in the music, born not only of steadfast religious conviction, but also from the composer’s own advanced age and absolute mastery of his art.

It is over a decade since this recording by the period instrument group La Petite Bande under its director Sigiswald Kuijken first appeared, but it has lost none of its freshness and élan in the intervening years. One of the great glories of the period instrument movement was the rediscovery of the sound of classical winds playing in ensemble. In this work, which relies so heavily on the wind sections, the advantages of period instruments really show through. The very opening chord of the Kyrie takes on a special hue when given into the hands of truly wooden woodwinds. Beautiful intonation and careful blend of the sounds is ubiquitous. Unlike modern winds, whose design feature is to sound individual and distinctive, classical winds are meant to blend together – especially notable in the sound of period clarinets and bassoons – notwithstanding the prominence of the jaunty rapid bassoon solos in the concluding Dona Nobis Pacem – a particularly jolly kind of Haydnesque peace. The brass instruments are played with considerable gusto, but the narrow bores of the trumpets and horns allow power without excessive volume. This enables Kuijken to balance the highpoints with brass and drums against his choir of 25 singers (six voices per part, with seven basses) without risk of the orchestra dominating. The DHM engineers have captured this careful balance of parts excellently. 

The choir suffers occasionally from a rather hard-edged sound in the soprano voices. This is notable particularly in the faster moving chordal sections of the Gloria and Credo, and in some rather aggressive phrase endings in louder sections. They are, nonetheless, a dexterous ensemble and capable of beautiful phrasing and line in other places. Considerable agility is shown in the rapid patter of the Benedictus – an unusual departure from the more usual soprano solo at this point.

Like the orchestra, the solo singers are a well-blended group. All the soloists are frequently to be heard in recordings with the continental period-instrument groups and seem perfectly at home with the sprightly tempi and delicate fluctuations of Kuijken's interpretation. They are usually used as a quartet ensemble to counter the choir. There is particularly good ensemble singing in the Agnus Dei, in which Sandra Piau just occasionally floats out of the texture in a lovely cantilena. It is all very nicely judged.

The coupling is the famous C major Te Deum, for choir and large orchestra. To the scoring of the Harmoniemesse Haydn adds a third trumpet and a lovely trio of trombones. Again, period instruments really show to advantage here – there is power and dignity but even with the trombones at full blast there is always tight rhythmic control and a clearly defined balance between choir and orchestra. Kuijken’s opening tempo is not as fast as some recent recordings but he is not a sluggard either. The violin figurations that accompany the whole opening section are played with verve and cleanliness. As in the mass, there is a hint of tightness in the upper voices of the choir at moments of passion, and this is unfortunate, but not so serious as to detract markedly from the overall quality of the performance. As a period instrument version of one of the less-frequently recorded late Haydn Masses I would be quite happy to live with this version.

Peter Wells

 



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