After hearing a performance of the opera Ascanio in Alba by
the fifteen-year-old Mozart in 1771, the composer Hasse is said
to have commented, “This boy will mean that we are all forgotten.”
His words proved all too prophetic, and now only the odd aria
or overture by the composer occasionally find their way onto albums
of late baroque and early classical music. The reissue of this
disc, therefore, offers the chance to reassess the music of a
composer who, in his day, was as celebrated as Mozart is now.
Instead of featuring Hasse’s considerable operatic
output, the CD focuses on his sacred music – of which he composed
a great deal. The Te Deum, Gloria (from the Mass in D minor)
and Regina Coeli were all composed for the Dresden court in
and around 1751. Fairly simple in construction, the works are
scored for a sizeable boys’ choir, soloists and an orchestra
which includes trumpets, horns and timpani.
The original recording is more than twenty
years old, and doesn’t stand up well to modern methods of baroque
and classical performance. The players of the Dresden State
Orchestra don’t use ‘authentic’ instruments, and the Dresden
Boys’ Choir is often wayward and uncontrolled (especially in
the opening movement of the Gloria). The sound is also flawed,
with the acoustics of the Dresden Hofkirche giving it a rather
brittle, vacuous quality. Nevertheless, the sheer joy and enthusiasm
of the performances, as well as the beauty of the music itself,
more than make up for the disc’s inadequacies.
The pieces are also well-chosen for giving
an insight into the life and times of this neglected composer(who
counted J.S. Bach as well as Mozart among his acquaintances.
The Gloria, for example, contains a blazing soprano solo (Domine
Deus, track 2) which must surely have been written with Hasse’s
wife, the star singer Faustina Bordoni, in mind. An equally
fine tenor solo (Qui tollis, track 3) is less well delivered
by Armin Ude, but reminds us that Hasse began his musical career
as a tenor in the opera houses of Hamburg and Brunswick.
The performance of the Te Deum is more disciplined,
enabling us to appreciate its concise compositional style. Highlights
include the lively contrasts between the various choir parts
in the opening movement (Te deum laudamus, track 6), and soprano
Andrea Ihle’s reappearance in a simple but affecting solo (Salvum
fac populum tuum, track 7).
The Regina Coeli feels
like a bit of a filler (and the last of its three movements is
simply a recapitulation of the first) in a disc that runs to less
than 48 minutes. But its warmth and charm make for very pleasant
listening. Alto Brigitte Pfetzschiner sounds rather stodgy in
the first movement (track 10), but offers more brightness and
fluency in the central Ora pro nobis (track 11). Overall, an imperfect
but hugely enjoyable disc that deserves repeated listening.