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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Complete Haydn Masses
CD 1 [57:21]
Stabat Mater, Hob. XXbis (1767) [57:21]
CD 2 [65:16]
Missa Cellensis in honorem BVM, Cäcilienmesse, Hob. XXII:5 (1766-c.1776) [65:16]
CD 3 [64:46]
Missa Sancti Nicolai, Nikolaimesse, Hob. XXII:6 (1772) [25:46]
Missa in angustiis, Nelsonmesse, Hob.XXII:11 (1798) [38 :46]
CD 4 [71:51]
Missa Cellensis, Mariazellermesse, Hob. XXII:8 (1782) [34:03]
Missa in tempore belli, Paukenmesse, Hob. XXII:9 (1796) [37:34]
CD 5 [68:27]
Missa in honorem BVM, Grosse Orgelsolomesse, Hob. XXII:4 (c. 1769) [33:49]
Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida, Heiligmesse, Hob. XXII:10 (1796) [34:25]
CD 6 [52:28]
Missa Brevis in F major, Hob. XXII:1 (1749) [11:41]
Harmoniemesse, Hob. XXII:14 * (1802) [40:30]
CD 7 [53:08]
Missa Brevis in F major, Hob. XXII:1 (1749, revised 1805) [11:56]
Schöpfungsmesse, Hob. XXII:13 * (1801) [41:01]
CD 8 [56:04]
Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, “Kleine Orgelsolomesse”, Hob. XXII:7 (1774) [15:59]
Theresienmesse, Hob. XXII:12 * (1799) [39:52]
Ann Hoyt, Julie Liston, Sharla Nafziger, Nacole Palmer, Nina Faia, (sopranos); Luthien Brackett, Kirsten Sollek, Hai-Ting Chinn (altos); Stephen Sands, Matthew Hughes, Daniel Mutlu, Nathan Davis, Daniel Neer, Matthew Hensrud, (tenors); Richard Lippold, Bert K Johnson, Andrew Nolen, (basses); Trinity Choir; Dongsok Shin (organ); Rebel Baroque Orchestra/J. Owen Burdick, Jane Glover*
rec. May 2001-September 2008, Trinity Church, New York
NAXOS 8.508009 [8 CDs: 57:21 + 65:16 + 64:46 + 71:51 + 68:27 + 52:28 + 53:08 + 56:04]

 

Experience Classicsonline


 
All Haydn’s masses in a single box! Well, not quite. A note in the booklet explains that two early masses are “fragmentary, and of uncertain provenance”. The box therefore contains twelve mass settings and the Stabat Mater. Listening to this glorious music, and comparing the performances to others, has been a labour of love.
 
Each of the eight discs is contained in its own card envelope, and all eight, plus a ninety-page booklet, slot into a stout cardboard case which is almost twice as wide as it needs to be. The booklet is particularly well produced. All details and dates pertaining to the works and the complex recording project are given, including the names of individual soloists which change from one mass to another, as well as those of the orchestral players. Notes on the music are informative and readable, and the history of the project itself is outlined in an essay entitled “Conductors’ Notes”. We learn here that the recordings, made over a period of seven years, were instigated by J. Owen Burdick, then Director of Music at Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York. He left the post in January 2008 with three masses still to record. Jane Glover conducted these in September of that year.
 
I decided to start my listening with the work I know best, rather predictably, the Nelson Mass. The first thing that strikes one is the reverberant acoustic of Trinity Church: I felt sorry both for the performers and the recording engineers, given the importance in this work of clarity of texture. The acoustic varies throughout the set, perhaps not surprisingly, given the seven year recording period. Here, the listener is placed well forward in respect of the performers, and there are one or two acoustic surprises, notably concerning the solo quartet which seems closer still and isolated from the rest of the ensemble. They acquit themselves well, however, though it would be idle to suggest that they match the bigger names in terms of character. Ann Hoyt is more than accomplished in the all-important solo soprano role, but by the side of Felicity Lott for Trevor Pinnock (Archiv) her dramatic moments rather lack bite. The orchestral playing is of a very high standard, but the violins, playing without vibrato, should surely sound more beautiful than they often do here. Playing above the stave, near the opening of “Qui tollis”, for example, the sound is unpleasantly harsh. The choir is outstandingly good, but I can’t abide some of the Latin pronunciation – the soloists do this too – which allows for things like “In Gloria Dei Patri Samen” and “… qui veni tin nomine Domini”. I also wish there were more light and shade in their singing: even “Et incarnatus” is sung forte, which rather ruins the following “Crucifixus”. The delicious orchestral accompaniment to “… et unam sanctam Catholicam …” is forced and heavy where it should dance, and the choral and orchestral Hosannas lack joy. Then the deliciously insouciant off-beat figures in the first violins in the “Agnus Dei” don’t really work, as the lower strings fall into the trap of getting slightly ahead of the beat. This is horribly difficult to bring off, admittedly, but the Hungarian forces on Naxos’s competing issue (8.554416) manage it better at a slower speed, as does John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists, at a hair-raisingly fast speed, on Philips (470 286-2). Best of all, though, and at a perfectly judged tempo, is the English Concert under Trevor Pinnock (Archiv), where choir and orchestra combine to perfect and exhilarating effect in this music which, as much as any one can think of, makes one glad to be alive.
 
I then turned to the Theresa Mass, and found that although the performance as a whole was mellower, much of the playing and singing was similar in style, rather lacking two elements essential to Haydn, charm and joy. I began to suppose that this was simply J. Owen Burdick’s way with Haydn, but then I had a surprise, which was that the Theresa, being the last mass of the series to be recorded, was conducted by Jane Glover. I realised then that it would be better to start again and listen to the whole programme in the order it had been recorded.
 
In general I derived the greatest pleasure from the earlier performances. The Missa Brevis, composed when Haydn was seventeen, is a delectable work, smiling for the most part, as was Haydn’s way, but with a suitably dark and affecting “Cruxifixus”. There is some lovely writing for two soprano soloists. The composer came back to it four years before his death and expanded the instrumentation, the notes suggest, for financial reasons. Both versions are recorded here in performances that are models of classical grace, quite avoiding the over-emphasis that mars the Nelson Mass. The conductor writes in the booklet that the recording of the Cäcilienmesse – the first to be tackled – was received to “universal rave reviews in Europe and America”. In spite of this, doubts about the nature of the music-making begin to emerge. At sixty-five minutes, this is a huge setting, but the work itself has a relentless quality to it, with much splendid display that ultimately becomes tiring. The writing for the soloists requires virtuoso singers, and each of the eight employed rises to the occasion, some more than others, but none without success. I had never heard this work before, and therefore had less idea of how I might like it to go, but even so I craved more light and shade, greater rhythmic flexibility and less accentuation. Hearing the work a second time brought attention to more than a few glorious moments – in Haydn, how could it be otherwise? Listen to the bassoon part at the beginning of the “Benedictus”, for example – but I don’t think one would come back to this work and discover new riches each time. More congenial, to my taste, is the charming, pastoral Nikolaimesse. Recorded a year later, and with a generally excellent quartet of soloists, this is winningly done, with only the occasional heaviness of accent and articulation a distant sign of what displeases me elsewhere. Recorded during the same period, the Grosse Orgelsolomesse is a lovely work, lyrical and, rather unusually for Haydn, pensive and even a little melancholy in parts. The “Dona nobis pacem” features some particularly dramatic violin writing, whereas the evocation of the Sanctus bell is particularly charming and touching. The “Benedictus” features the important organ solo which has given the work its name. It is expertly played by Dongsok Shin.
 
Composed in 1767, the Stabat Mater is one of the earliest works in this collection. When one considers the number of times Haydn returned to the text of the mass, and with what freshness and invention almost every time, it is surprising that the text of the Stabat Mater seems not to have inspired him to the same degree. At almost an hour, and employing four soloists as well as the choir, it is a large work, but there are only a very few passages where the composer seems totally engaged with the text. There is a feeling of Bach about several passages in this work, and these are perhaps the most successful too. Otherwise the writing, often florid, seems to inhabit a world of stock gestures, lacking the fire of inspiration that was to strike so consistently later, and was already igniting in instrumental and orchestral works composed at around the same time. Its inclusion in this collection seems strange, especially given that the performance, like the work, lacks fire. The soloists do what they can with their important roles, but they sound ill at ease for much of the time, especially at ornamented cadence points. And ominously, the final choral fugue – to the words “…the glory of Paradise”, no less – is so heavily accented and forced that it communicates little joy and brings even less pleasure.
 
For many, the discovery of this set will be the Mariazellermesse, composed in 1782 and almost worthy to stand beside the series of six great late masses of which the first was composed in 1796. It is a wonderfully imaginative work and in many respects this is a fine performance of it. But it is here, above all, that the harshness in the music-making begins really to establish itself. This is heard right at the outset, with a “Kyrie” which is, to my ears, relentless and over-accentuated. Even the more lyrical “Christe”, given to the solo alto, suffers in this way, and the mood spills over into the following “Gloria”. The performers sound angry here! Calmer passages usually work better, but come the “Quoniam” and we are back again to the old ways, with no respite as the “Credo” begins in the same unyielding fashion. This is tiring to listen to, almost the opposite of exciting, and the busy accompanying figuration lacks flexibility. Much of the problem, in fact, throughout the set, comes from the orchestral playing, undeniably brilliant though it be. The “Crucifixus”, for example, is a startlingly original passage, but these performers do not succeed in making something significant out of the repeated notes in the accompaniment: the result is heavy and uninspiring. The “Benedictus”, too, is highly imaginative, with choral and solo passages alternating with each other. The passages for solo quartet are sweet, lyrical and beautifully done here, but the more forceful choral passages are harsh and unremitting. Most of the lovely things in this performance come from the soloists, in fact, and the performance ends with a “Dona nobis pacem” which sounds more like an order than a prayer! The Kleine Orgelsolomesse, recorded at the same time, is characterised by the setting of several lines of text simultaneously, especially in the “Gloria”, which lasts less than a minute. The famous “Benedictus”, a lovely solo for soprano with obbligato organ, allows both Ann Hoyt and Dongsok Shin to shine. The performance is a satisfying one, though I take issue with the treatment of the words “qui tollis” in the “Agnus Dei”, unpleasantly – and inexplicably – loud and forced. My Oxford University Press score proposes a longer version of the “Gloria”, without the simultaneous word-setting, from the pen of the composer’s brother Michael. It seems such a sensible idea, in present times, to give the work in this form that I don’t understand why the present performers, along with the conductors of the three other performances of this delightful mass to be found on my shelves, opt for the original version.
 
The opening “Kyrie” of the Paukenmesse has the lilt, charm and humour I craved in the Nelson. This was encouraging, the more so given that I found Ann Hoyt even more at home in the work than in the other one. The alto, Kirsten Solleck, and the bass, Richard Lippold, are excellent too, and if the tenor Daniel Neer seems to have a less potent musical personality I think much of this is because Haydn gives him so little of any import to do. The “Gloria”, too, is given more time to breathe, but it’s a pity that the important cello solo in the “Qui tollis” sometimes gets lost in the overall balance. For the imitative writing of the “Credo” the playing and singing revert to the hard-driven manner favoured elsewhere, and try as I might to hear things otherwise, this is how I hear most of the remainder of the work. An exception is the “Cruxifixus”, very dark and perfectly realised, but a combination of very fast speeds and heavy articulation – lots of scrubbing quavers and semiquavers from the violins – make for a very unsmiling “Et resurrexit”.
 
My reactions to the Heiligmesse, recorded in 2006 and the last under J. Owen Burdick’s direction, were sadly predictable. Slower passages come off best, the extraordinary “Crucifixus”, for example, is very successful here. But the forte openings of so many movements, the “Gloria”, the “Credo” and, especially, the “Sanctus”, are too loud and unvaried in tone. They are surely louder than a classical forte should ever be, particularly when you remember that Haydn did actually mark a fortissimo on the final page of this mass. After the first hearing of this performance I started to doubt my own judgement. I listened to Gardiner again, and he convinced me that the lilt and charm that I hear so rarely in these performances is actually present in the music, particularly in the accompaniment, whose phrasing and articulation is far more varied than here. I then played the performance to a friend, without giving any clue as to what I thought. His reaction, amongst others, was to wonder whether the conductor actually liked Haydn.
 
The final three masses were recorded within the space of a single week in September 2008. The only immediate difference in approach between the two conductors is that Jane Glover asked for the Germanic pronunciation of the Latin text, but otherwise there is an undeniable mellowing in the general manner of presenting Haydn’s music. Not all the problems are solved, however, in particular in the orchestra where, once again, one notes the overall technical brilliance of the playing, but the downside of which is an unvaried, unimaginative approach to rapid accompanying figuration. The choral singing, too, is of quite remarkable quality. I just wish there was more lilt and less accent throughout.
 
The Harmony Mass opens with a big, stately “Kyrie” which gives the impression that accents and forte indications are in the process of being tamed. There isn’t much joy in “Et vitam venturi”, nor much in the way of dancing rhythms, though Glover manages the high jinx of the Hosannas in a way that Burdick might not have achieved. The “Benedictus” is on the way, but isn’t as much fun as it should be yet, nor is the “Dona nobis pacem”, with its delicious little solo for the bassoon. One has the feeling of work in progress, and that with a bit more time to work together the team might have achieved something more relaxed. The old performance on Decca, conducted by George Guest, is very similar in style to this one, but it is the late Richard Hickox on Chandos, not a conductor I readily associate with delicacy and charm, who provides just these two qualities, exactly as the music demands.
 
The Creation Mass is arguably the most original of all these works. The opening “Kyrie”, uniquely in 6/8 time, needs a bit more lilt than it gets here, and the wonderfully happy closing pages of the “Gloria” lack some joy, too. The “Credo”, richly orchestrated, sounds splendid, and the tenor, Daniel Mutlu, is particularly eloquent in “Et incarnatus”. “Et vitam venturi” features some particularly untamed violin playing, but overall the performance comes closer to what Haydn, the most smiling of composers, must surely have intended.
 
And so to the Theresa Mass, which I had initially listened to much earlier in the proceedings, but to which I came back to finish my Haydn odyssey. If it comes as a pleasure to cite the lilting quality in the passage from the “Gloria” beginning “et in terra pax hominibus”, in truth Haydn’s masses demand this kind of charm almost throughout. The triplet figures in the strings at “Qui tollis” are loud and hard and apparently played with full bow strokes. Where is the smile in the “Quoniam”? No, once again you will have to look elsewhere for the essence of this work. Gardiner is a safe recommendation, but once again it is Hickox who seems to know better than anybody how it should really go.
 
To sum up, these performances are technically highly accomplished and the recorded sound is most acceptable. The accompanying material is sound and informative. The set is, then, invaluable for anyone who wants to make acquaintance with all of Haydn’s masses, and all at a bargain price. But any listener who only knows these glorious works from these performances will be missing out, since the enormous energy and drive has all too frequently been achieved at the cost of elements which are essential to Haydn: charm, grace and smiling benevolence.
 
William Hedley

see also review by John Sheppard (Recording of the Month)
 

 


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