Naxos already had a decent recording of the ‘Nelson’
Mass (8.554416, with the ‘Little Organ’ Mass,
Hob.XXII/7 - see review)
on which soloists, the Hungarian Radio Chorus and the Nikolaus
Esterházy Sinfonia were conducted by Béla Drahos.
The new recording, Volume 3 of the Naxos series of the Haydn
Masses, is also available in an 8-CD box set of the twelve complete
Haydn Masses and Stabat Mater (8.508009: see review
by John Sheppard - Recording of the Month - and review
by William Hedley).
The Nikolaimesse, recorded in 2002, gets the new recording
off to a very good start. The music is lighter, less vintage
Haydn than its more familiar companion, with mainly brisk tempi
much in the manner of the short early Masses which Mozart composed
for his Salzburg patron Archbishop Coloredo. It also receives
a fine performance and recording. The soloists don’t merit
a listing on the rear insert, but they are named inside the
booklet, as they deserve to be. If I select Ann Hoyt, the soprano,
for special praise, that should not be at the expense of the
To be honest, I had not expected much from this CD - I hadn’t
heard of any of the performers and I’d forgotten the warm
reception which the complete box had received - but the performance
of the Nikolaimesse alone makes it worth the modest price.
All concerned convince me that this early work is at least the
equal of any of Mozart’s Masses, with the exception of
the Coronation (K317) the ‘Great’ Mass
(K427)and, of course, the Requiem (K626).
The ‘Nelson’ Mass is, I think, at least the equal
of the three best Mozart Masses. I shall continue to give it
that name as a kind of shorthand, though it has very little
to do with Lord Nelson: Haydn nicknames have a habit of sticking
even when they are inappropriate - there is at least enough
evidence to doubt that it was at a performance of Symphony No.96
that the heavy chandelier narrowly missed causing serious injury,
yet the name ‘Miracle’ continues to be attached
to that work. Haydn himself called it Missa in angustiis,
Mass in straitened times, but it’s easier and shorter
to continue to call it the ‘Nelson’.
The opening Kyrie announces that this is a more serious
work than the Nikolaimesse. As Jennifer More Glagov notes
in the excellent booklet, the lack of wind players - the Prince
had just dismissed them as an economy measure - apart from three
(specially hired?) trumpets gives the work an undeniably martial
The performers again give an excellent account of themselves.
Only Ann Hoyt remains from the earlier line-up and continues
to sing impressively - my wife came in as I was listening and
was very surprised to discover that this was the voice of a
singer whom neither she nor I had heard before. Naxos and others
please note, we want to hear more of her. The other soloists
and the choir also step up to the plate and the recording, though
thicker than for the earlier work, recorded five years earlier,
is more than adequate. The last semi-professional performance
of the ‘Nelson’ that I heard was spoiled by a soprano
who out-sang everyone else, but that is certainly not the case
here. I understand that all the soloists are members of the
Trinity Choir, which must make it a formidable place for the
musically inclined to worship.
John Sheppard (hereafter JS) complained of Burdick’s habit
of slowing at certain points, but some of these are traditional.
In the Creed, for example, the slowing at the end of track 16
on the words descendit de cælis prepares for the
more marked traditional emphasis on et incarnatus est
in the next section, where it used to be expected that all would
kneel or bow deeply. In any case, JS soon began to be as untroubled
by this practice as I was.
William Hedley (hereafter WH) commented on the reverberant acoustic
of the Trinity Church but I really was not troubled by this
- different audio systems react differently to reverberant recordings.
Nor was I really troubled by the other detailed criticisms which
he makes. Rather than repeat these here, I refer you to his
Whilst I admit the validity of just about all of them, I cannot
consider them a serious handicap to an overall recommendation.
WH is more than a little hard on the diction - the syllables
are frequently chopped up in the wrong places, but the demise
of Latin in the school curriculum makes it almost inevitable
that a choir’s familiarity with that language can no more
be taken for granted than a knowledge of Japanese. (Actually,
the latter is a more frequent visitor to the modern UK secondary
curriculum). Haydn would have expected to hear the harder Austro-Germanic
pronunciation of Latin, with hard ‘g’ in virginis,
and ‘c’ in crucifixus, for example; I’m
pleased to report that all concerned here take the softer Italianate
JS raises the possibility that the set as a whole is superior
even to Hickox (Chandos CHAN0599, also available separately)
or Guest (Argo/Decca). I’m not quite sure that I would
go that far, but I was impressed enough by the single CD under
consideration to wish to sample more of the set via the Naxos
I’ve already praised the quality of the Naxos notes. One
small complaint concerns the absence of texts, but the Tridentine
Latin Mass is pretty well known and the texts and translations
are available online, as indicated above: they can be yours
even without buying the CD.
Overall, I think that WH is right to prefer John Eliot Gardiner
(Philips 470 2862, with the Theresienmesse) and Trevor
Pinnock (DG Archiv 423 0972, with the Te Deum). I recommended
the Pinnock version of the ‘Nelson’ Mass as Download
of the Month in my May 2009 Download
Roundup) and thoroughly agree with WH that it offers a life-enhancing
experience, but I can’t imagine purchasers of the present
CD being disappointed with J Owen Burdick’s performances.
Having heard the recording right through once, I couldn’t
wait to hear it all again, instead of taking the usual time
out to gather my impressions. Go for Pinnock for the best -
even at full price and rather short value - but the new Naxos
makes a very fine and less expensive alternative.