Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sinfonia in D major, Hob. Ia:7 (1777) [4:51]
Symphony No. 88 in G major, Hob. I:88 (1787) [19:36]
Mass in B flat major, Harmoniemesse, Hob. XXII:14 (1802) [42:34]
Malin Hartelius (soprano); Michaela Knab (soprano) (Credo); Judith Schmid (contralto); Christian Elsner (tenor); Bernhard Schneider (tenor) (Credo); Franz-Josef Selig (bass); Bavarian Radio Chorus/Peter Dijkstra
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live Catedral, Waldsassen, Germany, 7 October 2008
BR KLASSIK 403571900102 [67:08]

Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons took up the post of Chief Conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2003. This recording of a concert given in October 2008 and issued on Bavarian Radio’s own classical label, brings a rare and welcome opportunity for those who know his work only from recordings to hear him in repertoire outside the romantic and late romantic periods.

The concert opens with a vigorous performance of Haydn’s Sinfonia in D major, composed in 1777 as an opera overture and pressed into service in at least two subsequent symphonies. There then follows the delicious eighty-eighth symphony. It receives a fine performance from Jansons and the Bavarian orchestra. The playing is robust and forthright in the faster passages such as the first movement and the turbulent middle section of the slow movement, though the solos are beautifully taken in the earlier part of this movement. The minuet is charmingly done, and the familiar finale too, though others have found greater delicacy here.

The main work on the disc is also very well done. A photograph of the choir shows forty singers, and close inspection of another, perhaps taken at the concert itself, shows even more. This same photograph reveals three double basses in the orchestra, with the rest of the strings presumably in proportion. A largish group, then, confirming the impression given by the symphony, and not forgetting that this last of Haydn’s series of six late masses is the most heavily scored, with parts for eleven wind players and timpani in addition to the strings. The Latin text is pronounced, as one would expect, in the German manner, and the choral singing is superbly confident and detailed. The cathedral acoustic is very reverberant, but the engineers have mastered this for the most part: only in the final Dona nobis pacem is there a slight suggestion of acoustic muddle. I should have liked a more forward balance for the solo bassoon here, that delicious chuffing solo not quite as prominent as it might be, and the choir could have been a little further forward too, but this is a very marginal point and not everyone will think so. Jansons encourages his performers to produce a rich overall sound, and this is achieved without undue heaviness. So this is not a period performance as such, but tempi are rapid and the dramatic passages are dispatched quite without the ugly overemphasis that marred many of the performances on the Naxos collection I reviewed some months ago. That said, the Benedictus, which the composer marked pianissimo, could be more fleet-footed and fun than it is here. The solo quartet is outstanding, especially when singing together, their voices perfectly matched. Special mention should go to the soprano in Et incarnatus, though it’s impossible to be sure which one of the two named singers it is.

The booklet contains the full Latin text of the Mass. The essay by Alexander Heinzel is of only limited use and, I think, must have given the English translator (Donald Arthur) a few headaches. There is audience applause after each work, surprisingly luke-warm given the quality of the three performances, but that is perhaps the local way. If the programme appeals and you’re not expecting a performance in the Harnoncourt style, you needn’t hesitate.

William Hedley 

see also review of DVD of this performance by Brian Wilson