One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger              Founding Editor: Rob Barnett              Contact Seen and Heard here

Some items
to consider


.
La Mer Ticciati

Eriks EŠENVALDS

Detlev GLANERT

Jaw-dropping

simply marvellous

Outstanding music

Elite treatment

some joyous Gershwin


Bartok String Quartets
uniquely sensitive


Cantatas for Soprano

 

REVIEW
Plain text for smartphones & printers


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb



Donate and get a free CD

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical



Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Nelson Mass and Insanae et vanae curae
Jonty Ward (treble), Hugh Cutting (alto), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Tom Edwards (bass)
Choir of New College Oxford
New Century Baroque/Edward Higginbottom
rec. 13-15 July 2011, Church of St Michael and All Angels, Oxford, UK. DDD
Texts and translations included
NOVUM NCR1385 [48:43]

After returning from his second visit to England Haydn - at the time generally considered the greatest composer in Europe – predominantly confined himself to the composition of large-scale works. Among them were the six masses which today are very much part of the standard repertoire of classical choral music. They were the result of an obligation to write a mass every year for the celebrations of the name-day of Marie Hermenegild, wife of his employer Prince Nicolaus II of Esterházy. The Nelson Mass was the third, and Haydn composed it shortly after having completed his oratorio Die Schöpfung.

The Mass was originally called Missa in Angustiis which can be translated as Mass in times of trouble or fear. Why exactly Haydn gave this name is not quite clear. Scholars have suggested several explanations. The best-known and most popular is that it was inspired by political circumstances: the threat to the Habsburg empire by Napoleon. Although this threat was repelled when the British admiral Lord Nelson won the Battle of the Nile (1-3 August 1798) Edward Higginbottom, in his liner-notes, points out that this news probably only reached Vienna after the completion of this mass. There are other explanations. Haydn was exhausted after completing Die Schöpfung and his precarious state of health at the time may have made him give this title to his mass. Then there is another option: the state of the music in the Esterházy household. The Prince had disbanded his wind band, and for this mass Haydn had to confine himself to parts for trumpet and timpani in addition to the strings.

Today this mass is best-known as Nelson Mass. Again there are various explanations as to when and how his name became associated with it. Some suggest that the dramatic character of this mass, and especially the extended role of the trumpets and timpani in the Kyrie and the latter part of the Sanctus gave food for this connection. This work became associated with the Admiral when he visited the Esterházy court in Eisenstadt in 1800, and attended a performance of the mass.

The role of the trumpets and timpani is even more striking because of the lack of woodwind and horns. This seems to be partly compensated for by the part for an organ whose chords in the right hand may be meant as a substitute for the woodwind. Haydn played this part himself in the first performance. However, throughout the mass its role is rather limited.

The soprano vocal part is remarkable. In masses of the time the soloists mostly play a modest role, and are sometimes used as a 'small choir' to create contrasts. Here the soprano has been given a virtuosic role, not unlike that of an opera star. In some performances that is exposed by a very operatic way of singing, with heavy vibrato and all. That was certainly not Haydn’s intention. The solo voices are always part of the ensemble, and should blend with each other and with the choir. That is guaranteed here as the four soloists are all members of the choir. There is no lack of technical brilliance in Jonty Ward’s performance. His singing is nothing short of miraculous but at the same time he is very much part of a whole. This performance is a team effort, and that gives it a great amount of coherence. That comes to the fore, for instance, in 'Qui tollis peccata mundi' (Gloria) where Haydn juxtaposes a bass solo and the choir. Tom Edwards gives a beautiful account of his part, but never moves away from the choir. The same goes for the short interventions of the soprano which perfectly merge into the tutti.

In between the Credo and the Sanctus Higginbottom has inserted the chorus Insanae et vanae curae, where in the liturgy the Offertory is performed. It is included as an independent work in the Haydn catalogue but was originally part of Haydn's oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia. Whether in its present form it is from Haydn's pen is not sure, but Higginbottom believes that stylistically it fits the Mass well and its content is also suitable. The opening line says: "Deluded and vain worries assault the mind." In order to create increased coherence the scoring has been adapted to that of the Mass. The parts of the woodwind and the horns are taken by the organ.

If we look at this recording from the perspective of 'authenticity' the picture is mixed. First of all, all-male choirs were probably very much the standard at the time, and it seems likely that Haydn's masses were performed by such a choir. I have no access to the books by H.C. Robbins Landon, and therefore can't check whether he gives any information about the forces of the first performance. The Wikipedia article on this Mass suggests two female sopranos who could have taken the solo role. As admirable as Jonty Ward's singing is - and I enjoyed it much more than other recordings with a female soprano - it seems hardly in line with the historical circumstances. The adaptation of the orchestral scoring of the motet Insanae et vanae curae is questionable. A composer adapting his score to different circumstances is one thing, a modern interpreter doing the same another. However, Haydn himself seems to have had a rather 'liberal' approach to the way his music was treated as can be concluded from, for instance, his attitude towards various arrangements of the Sieben Worte.

As far as the performance is concerned, there is hardly anything to complain about. The choir is excellent, and so is the orchestra. The key moments in this mass are well worked out. The soloists all do a very good job; only on a couple of occasions did I find Tom Edwards a bit weak on the lowest notes of his solo in 'Qui tollis'. So, setting aside the historical considerations mentioned above, this is a very good recording of one of Haydn's masterworks. I am sure I shall return to it, and it would be interesting to see other masses performed by these forces.

Johan van Veen
www.musica-dei-donum.org
twitter.com/johanvanveen