Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Missa Cellensis in honorem BVM, Cäcilienmesse [65:16]
Ann Hoyt (soprano)
Julie Liston (soprano)
Luthien Brackett (alto)
Kirsten Sollek (alto)
Matthew Hughes (tenor)
Stephen Sands (tenor)
Bert K Johnson (bass)
Richard Lippold (bass)
Trinity Choir; Rebel Baroque Orchestra/J. Owen Burdick
rec. Trinity Church, New York May 2001. DDD.
NAXOS 8.572122 [65:16]

Haydn’s early settings of the mass - he wrote 11 in all - have slipped from view, so it is good to see this release of the first one he composed, in 1766.

Dating from 2001, it is hardly a new recording but its freshness and sense of vitality belie its age. From the start, the massed forces eschew the notion that this an ecclesiastical work. Rather, they take on board contemporary criticism that Haydn’s masses were more for entertainment than contemplation. Accordingly, the tempi are set at an exuberant pace, and the solo passages have a lively, theatrical air.

The main let-down is the quality of some of the solo singing. It is unclear why double the number of SATB soloists are employed when never more than one part is required for each movement. So whereas Stephen Sands has a bright, earnest tone in the ‘Christe eleison’ (track 2), his fellow tenor Matthew Hughes is rather pale by comparison. He and alto Luthien Brackett sound positively ropey in a flagging ‘Domine Deus’ (track 7), while Richard Lippold’s high bass lacks the necessary gravitas in the brief Agnus Dei (track 17).

Balanced against these disappointments are some sparkling performances from sopranos Ann Hoyt and Julie Liston. Hoyt is impressively agile in the ‘Laudamus te’ (track 5), and Liston gives a joyous account of the ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’ (track 9). The Trinity Choir also hold their own pretty well, although the lower registers can sometimes wander off track, and both they and the orchestra are at their best in the lively allegro passages rather than during Haydn’s more ponderous moments.

The sound quality is warm and clear, and Naxos’s sleeve-notes provide a full and detailed explanation of the composition of the mass, and its place in Haydn’s career.

John-Pierre Joyce

Lively and theatrical but let down by the quality of some of the solo singing.… see Full Review