Franz Josef HAYDN
Missa Brevis in F, Hob. XXII:1 (1749) [11:49]
Missa, “Harmoniemesse” in B-flat, Hob. XXII:14 (1802) [40:30]
Ann Hoyt, Julie Liston, Nacole Palmer, Nina Faia (sopranos); Kristen Sollek (alto); Daniel Mutlu, Matthew Hensrud (tenors); Richard Lippold, Andrew Nolen (basses); Trinity Choir
Rebel Baroque Orchestra/J. Owen Burdick, Jane Glover
rec. Trinity Church, New York, 23-24 May 2001 and 5-6 September, 2008.
NAXOS 8.572126 [52:28]

Although it is for his instrumental music, primarily symphonies, string quartets and works for solo piano that Josef Haydn is most known, he was quite given to writing for voices and left behind a sizeable output of operas, twelve authenticated masses and numerous other settings of sacred texts for choir, soloists and orchestra. This program gives us his first and last words in the mass genre, one by an exuberant boy of seventeen the other by a tired and weary old man, although one could never discern the composer’s fatigue by listening to the music.

The Missa Brevis in F is a little gem of economy, with Haydn sailing through the wordy Credo in under three minutes, a feat he accomplished by stacking phrases of the text on top of one another and distributing them throughout the voice parts. The unusual scoring for only two solo voices, both sopranos might have been a vehicle for he and his brother Michael, though it does stretch belief a bit to think of a seventeen year old with an unchanged voice.

The Harmoniemesse is one of Haydn’s final works, written for the birthday celebrations of the Esterhazy Princess in 1802. The composer soon took his leave of the Esterhazy family after decades of service and although he lived another seven years, he did little composing after this period. There is no evidence in this joyful and exuberant mass that Haydn was at all ill. In fact, his later masses have been criticized over the years for their joyous optimism, and sometimes overly upbeat settings of the more reflective and serious parts of the texts. Be that as it may, this is a masterpiece, beautifully augmented by the full complement of wind instruments that give the mass its nickname of “harmonie.”

These are performances of divinely understated elegance. Singing from the choir is dead in tune and beautifully balanced. Phrases are splendidly shaped and tempo choices are spot on. The Trinity Choir is full of fine soloists, and there is some magnificent singing from sopranos Ann Hoyt and Julie Liston is the Missa Brevis. The Rebel Baroque Orchestra is a tight band of precision players. The clarity of their playing, especially in fast passages is without flaw. The one and only defect in this production is the lack of texts and translations in the booklet. The program notes are informative and interesting and not loaded with blow by blow descriptions of the music.

These are performances of almost text-book perfection and will be a delight to any lover of choral music. With really nothing to criticize, I can say nothing more but go add this fine recording to your library.

Kevin Sutton

Exceptionally elegant performances from a first rate band of musicians. This is almost a must-have.