This is the eighth and final volume in Naxos’ complete recording
of the Haydn Masses. It contrasts a relatively early work, the
Kleine Orgelsolomesse, with a masterpiece of Haydn’s
maturity, the Theresienmesse. Both are very well
performed by a period instruments orchestra with a capable choir
and soloists. If you would like a taste of Haydn’s choral music
this disc is thus an ideal introduction, especially at Naxos’s
usual bargain price. If you already have a Theresienmesse
on modern instruments, this one will provide an interesting
Haydn’s name is usually associated with instrumental music:
104-odd symphonies, numerous string quartets and piano sonatas,
various concertos and divertimenti. But he actually wrote quite
a lot of vocal music as well: operas, sacred oratorios, songs
and cantatas, as well as music for liturgical performance. Haydn’s
vocal music is just as varied as his instrumental output, and
well worth exploring.
The Kleine Orgelsolomesse is so called
to distinguish it from another mass setting with an organ solo,
the much longer Grosse Orgelsolomesse or Missa in
Honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae, H. XXII:4. The Kleine
Orgelsolomesse is a brief work of around 16 minutes duration,
lightly scored for chorus, solo soprano, two violins and continuo.
It is charming and reminiscent of Baroque church sonatas. It’s
very well performed by the Trinity forces and Rebel Orchestra.
The Theresienmesse is a much more substantial
work written 25 years after the Kleine Orgelsolomesse.
It is scored for full orchestra (including clarinets, bassoons,
trumpets, timpani and organ), four soloists and chorus. H.C.
Robbins Landon called the last six masses ‘symphonies for voices
and orchestra using the mass text’. These works combine spiritual
depth with the architectural qualities of the late symphonies,
all of which had been written by now. It is called the Theresienmesse
because it was thought to have been composed for Marie Therese,
wife of Emperor Francis II. Actually it was commissioned by
Nicholas II, Prince of Esterhazy, to celebrate the name day
of his wife Marie Hermenegild. The Prince’s wife was an admirer
of Haydn’s, and the genial mood of the work perhaps reflects
the warmth of their friendship.
Haydn’s intermingling of choir, soloists and orchestra is quite
masterly, and alternates polyphonic and homophonic choral writing.
The different sections of the text are given a variety of feeling
that encompasses serenity, foreboding, and celebration. His
trademark dramatic pauses and rhythmic drive are much in evidence,
combined with some adventurous chromatic harmonies. This performance
features generally brisk tempos, not much vibrato on the strings,
and hard sticks on the timpani. Jane Glover’s direction keeps
things moving along; apart from a rather squally entry from
the alto, the soloists acquit themselves well. None has a really
big voice, but this suits the clean and unsentimental approach.
The only criticism that could be made is that the dynamic nature
of the direction leaves it a little lacking in charm. Within
its parameters, however, this is a very assured performance.
The only version for comparison I could find is a performance
from the 1970s or 1980s on Erato, by the Lausanne Vocal Ensemble
and Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, directed by Michel Corboz. This
is a much more leisurely affair; Corboz and his forces take
46:35, some 6½ minutes longer than the Trinity performance.
His slower tempos produce a more moulded, legato effect. If
you are thinking of adding the Naxos recording as a second version,
be prepared for a more dynamic approach than some earlier performances.
The acoustic of Trinity Church is quite lively; chords that
cut off abruptly take a few seconds to die away, which suits
this repertoire. The recording is clear, with none of the muddiness
that performances in reverberant venues can acquire.
Reviews of other relases in this series