Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, ‘Kleine Orgelsolomesse’ in B flat major, H. XXII:7 (1774) [15:59]
Ann Hoyt (soprano); Dongshok Shin (organ); Trinity Choir; Rebel Baroque Orchestra/J. Owen Burdick
Missa, ‘Theresienmesse’ in B flat major, H. XXII:12 (1799) [39:52]
Nacole Palmer (soprano); Kirsten Solleck (alto); Daniel Mutlu (tenor); Andrew Nolen (bass); Trinity Choir; Rebel Baroque Orchestra/Jane Glover
rec. Trinity Church, New York, 20-21 May 2004 (Kleine Orgelsolomesse), 10-11 September 2008 (Theresienmesse).
NAXOS 8.572128 [56:04]

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 contrast.

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.

Guy Aron

Lively and vigorous readings on period instruments of the Kleine Orgelsolomesse and the Theresienmesse at a bargain price.

Reviews of other relases in this series
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 5
Volume 6
Volume 7