Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sinfonia (Overture) in D, Hob. Ia:7 [4:51]
Symphony No.88 in G, Hob. I:88 [19:31]
Mass in B-flat, Hob: XXII:14 (Harmoniemesse) (1802) [42:32]
Malin Hartelius, Michael Knab* (soprano); Judith Schmid (alto); Christian Elsner (tenor); Franz-Josef Selig (bass);
Chor und Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
* Credo only.
rec. Stiftsbasilika Waldsassen, Bavaria, Germany, 7 October, 2008. PCM stereo and DTS 5.0 and Dolby 5.0 surround sound. Region 0. 16:9 picture.
TV Direction: Brian Large.
Booklet with Latin text of the Mass.
(also available as Hybrid SACD: 403571900102)
BR-KLASSIK DVD 403571900103 [67:08]

If, like me, you hadn’t thought of Mariss Jansons as a Haydn specialist, don’t allow yourself to be deterred from this DVD. He has previously recorded Symphonies Nos. 100, 104 and ‘105’ for Sony - another live performance with the Bavarian Radio Choir and Orchestra - the ‘Surprise’ Symphony, coupled with Mozart and Berlioz for Medici DVD (see review), and a 5-CD set of cello concertos, including the two by Haydn, with Truls Mørk. That Medici DVD elicited an appreciative review from John Phillips and I’m happy to report that I’m just as delighted with the new recording.

Only absolutists for the cause of period instruments or those who would have preferred two choral works need to be cautious; everyone else will find here a thoroughly enjoyable performance of one of Haydn’s late, great Mass settings, the Harmoniemesse, with two equally enjoyable bonuses in the substantial form of Symphony No.88 and the shorter Sinfonia in D. Even those who insist on ‘authentic’ performances may well find themselves surprised to hear the extent to which Jansons has taken on board many period-instrument practices - not quite to the extent of Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Beethoven recordings with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, perhaps, but this is certainly not big-band Haydn.

The short Sinfonia which opens the programme establishes those credentials in a convincing manner. It’s attractive music which Haydn later recycled and it makes a good curtain-raiser here.

My benchmark for Symphony No.88 is the classic Furtwängler version which I recommended in my February 2010 Download Roundup. Like Beecham, Furtwängler made his recording long before authenticity became the watchword, but, also like Beecham, I for one am willingly taken along by his view of Haydn. It comes in very acceptable mono sound, coupled with an equally superb performance of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony on a mid-price DG download (474 9882) from passionato, or on CD from Archipel (ARPCD0122). I much prefer it to Simon Rattle’s recent version, despite the golden opinions which the latter has won. Please note that the recent revamp of the Passionato website may mean that the URL which I gave in the Roundup may not work.

My other benchmark version of the symphony, with the Berlin Philharmonic and Eugen Jochum, is available only as part of a bonus extra in his DG budget-price 4-CD set of the ‘London’ symphonies, but it can be downloaded separately and reasonably economically from iTunes and Amazon. Again, Jochum was recorded in the 1960s, before the most recent scholarship, but his version really sings.

A more recent recording well worth throwing into the comparison is the Naxos with Barry Wordsworth, which I reviewed in the Download Roundup for July, 2009, a fine bargain. Jansons offers a performance superior to the Naxos and comparable with my favourite Jochum and Furtwängler versions; if he doesn’t quite take me with him into the music as much as they do - a tall order - he has the advantage of that modern research which reputedly takes us closer to what would have been heard by Haydn’s contemporaries. You are never under the illusion of hearing period instruments but nothing is over-large or heavy; just listen to the delicacy and dancing joy of the moment immediately after the adagio introduction of the first movement gives way to allegro.

For the Harmoniemesse or ‘wind-band’ Mass, so called because of the prominence of the wind instruments, there are three very good performances for comparison: Richard Hickox, either coupled with the Salve Regina in E on Chandos CHAN0612 or as part of his complete set of the Haydn Masses on CHAN0734(8); John Eliot Gardiner on a 2-CD Philips set with the Schöpfungsmesse or Creation Mass (unavailable? except as a download from passionato) and, at budget price, David Hill with the Winchester Cathedral Choir on Hyperion Helios (CDH55208). All of these have their distinctive claims, especially the Winchester version, which combines traditional choristers with David Hill’s earlier experiences directing the music of the Roman liturgy at Westminster Cathedral.

I return most often to the Gardiner who, I think, just has the edge on the others, including the new DVD, but I shall turn to Jansons when I wish to combine listening satisfaction with the visual experience. The soloists on the Hickox and Gardiner are better known than those who perform for Jansons, but none of them is at all disappointing. The chorus is rather large, considering that the orchestra has been somewhat scaled down for this concert, but the balance between the two is well maintained. If you don’t yet know this work, but have heard the ‘Nelson’ Mass, you will probably be pleasantly surprised to discover the Harmoniemesse to be at least the equal of that more famous work. Am I the only person to hear a fascinating echo of the Countess’s regretful aria Dove sono? from Mozart’s Figaro in the Agnus Dei? What begins with that wistful echo, however, is turned by Haydn into a gloriously positive conclusion. In any event, we now have four recordings worthy of allowing you to hear not just that wonderful ending, but the whole work. The applause from the otherwise silent audience is well deserved.

Whether you will want the DVD of the Jansons performance or will be satisfied with the slightly less expensive SACD, which I haven’t heard, may be decided by the extent to which you agree with BR-Klassik’s statement that the performance is an optical as well as an aural delight: Da dieses Ereignis auch ein optischer Genuss war, ist ebenfalls eine DVD erhältlich. As the performance took place amid the rococo glories of the Stiftsbasilika Waldsassen, I’m inclined to agree; with the strong hand of the hugely experienced Brian Large controlling what we see, however, the visual is never allowed to predominate at the expense of the aural.

The recording is good, especially if played over good audio equipment or heard on headphones. I’m listening on phones as I write this review, with the DVD playing on my PC and I’m greatly enjoying hearing it over again. There’s a very slight background hiss which, I imagine, is not present on the SACD.

The BR Klassik booklet is rather fuller than usual with DVDs, though not as detailed as the Chandos or Hyperion booklets which accompany their recordings of the Harmoniemesse.

All in all, then, if the programme appeals, especially if you like your Haydn Masses set against rococo splendour, these performances are confidently recommended. As I close, I have just read a review which, though rating the DVD very highly, suggests that some of the music’s magnificence is missing. Listen to the end of the Agnus Dei and I think that, like me, you will find that all the grandeur of the work is captured.

Brian Wilson