Haydn chose a different compositional style in his 1802 Harmoniemesse
It’s no longer the ‘classical sound’ we are used to, but something
altogether bolder. That can be disconcerting to ears that expect to be casually
entertained with the easy beauty and gay spirit that features so strongly in
most of his work. Intrepid if not quite yet ‘Beethovenesque-romantic’,
the Kyrie and Gloria especially are rather demanding.
If you continue to listen attentively, you’ll happen upon the gem of “Et
incarnatus est”, where the Gloria lets up; later the quickening Agnus Dei
that concludes with the Dona nobis pacem, a positively rousing, rather joyous
plea for peace. Harnoncourt sees especially in the latter parallels with Beethoven’s Missa
. You may not hear those, you will be able to imagine how Haydn,
by now the most respected composer in Europe, sends the celebratory crowd - on
the occasion of the name-day of Princess Maria Hermengild Esterházy -
out of the church to the rather more secular part of the festivities.
At the very other end of Haydn’s output and career are the Te Deum and
the Cantata “Qual dubbio ormai”. Rather than peeking into an emerging
romantic language, they hark back to the late Viennese baroque tradition. These
are small works-to-order for the Esterházy court when Haydn wasn’t
the most celebrated musician alive but a lowly, humble Vice Court Capellmeister
The cantata’s main ingredient is the late-baroque/early classical soprano
aria, vocal pyrotechnics of amiable character.
There’s a good bit of competition for Haydn masses; at least nine different
recordings are available. My go-to version had hitherto been Gardiner’s
of the six most popular of the fourteen masses. With that not being at hand,
I pitted Harnoncourt against Sigiswald Kuijken (La Petite Bande, DHM), Richard
Hickox (Collegium Musicum 90, Chandos), and Bruno Weil (Tafelmusik, Sony). There
really isn’t an odd one out, either positively or negatively.
Weil is notable for his refreshingly swift tempi, matched occasionally by Hickox.
The latter has the most focus on the voices, which are up-front and quite (too?)
dramatic. Harnoncourt has his singers and orchestras reach your ears from further
back, with more ambience surrounding them - similar to Weil but with more clarity.
Weil has a boys’ choir (Tölzer
Knabenchor) and they’re in absolute top form. If the sound was as vivid
as Hickox’s (the Sony recording was made by Bavarian Radio in 1997 at the
Monestary-home of one of the finest breweries there are, by the way), I’d
have found my favorite with Weil, not least for the incredibly natural voices
of his soloists.
But I also admire Harnoncourt’s flexibility of phrasing which makes for
a very lively reading despite consistently slower tempi. If clarity and identifiableness
of individual voices - vocal and orchestral - is of importance to you, Hickox
should be most suited; where integration of all musical strands reigns paramount,
the wonderfully balanced Kuijken would win.
If one of those qualities is of special importance to you or if you really
the work, it will be worth adding to your collection of Harmoniemessen
Otherwise any of these - including the temperate Harnoncourt - will do nicely
and need not be replaced. Kuijken and Weil are both available thanks to ArkivMusic’s “ArkivCD” program
where they resuscitate - properly licensed, of course - out of print interpretations
from the catalogs of all major record companies. Hickox is available individually and
in an 8-CD
box of the complete masses. Rilling (Hänssler)
and George Guest (Decca)
are non-HIP alternatives.
Jens F. Laurson