Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Missa in Augustiis, “Nelson Mass”, Hob. XXII:11 [39:40]
Symphony No. 102 in B flat (arr. Salomon) [23:58]
Christine Brandes (soprano); Danielle Reutter-Harrah (mezzo); David Kurtenbach (tenor); Jeffrey Fields (baritone)
St. Lawrence String Quartet; Tara O’Connor (flute); George Barth (fortepiano); Stanford Chamber Chorale and Strings/Stephen M. Sano
rec. Bing Concert Hall, Stanford University, USA, 16-17 February 2015 (Mass) and 26, 29 June 2015 (Symphony)
Text and translation included

This is a fascinating coupling: full-scale choral meets chamber arrangement of symphony. As a through-played programme it works excellently. Incidentally, Boston Baroque on Linn Records issued the same coupling in 2013, but with the symphony in its orchestral garb. The present chamber arrangement is perhaps a step more imaginative.

The so-called “Nelson Mass” is justifiably one of the composer’s most popular works in this genre. This is a forward-moving performance — try the onward tread of the “Credo” — performed with a real awareness of historical performance practice. The “Et incarnatus est” carries the requisite gravitas, with its ominous trumpets perfectly judged both in dynamic and in the recorded soundstage. The recording also allows for plenty of detail in the busy laze of light that is the “Et incarnates est”. A pity the trumpets are on the bland side towards the close of “Et resurrexit” - in contrast to the radiant chorus. Yet the strings are superb throughout, particularly moving in the “Agnus Dei”, both in the tender opening and in the more dramatic accompaniments for the soloists.

The present performance is often marred, unfortunately, by the wobble of soprano Christine Brandes. Of the four solo parts, the soprano’s is by far the most challenging. Brandes sounds uncomfortable for the most part, and her phrases can sometimes come across as uncontrolled; in particular in the opening phases of the “Gloria”. Her best contribution comes in the “Benedictus”, but even there any time the music moves over mezzo piano, her sound starts to veer out of control. Jeffrey Fields is a fine baritone, however, eminently lyrical in the “Qui tollis”, while Danielle Reutter-Harrah is a secure mezzo.

The performance does gel, and the final “Dona nobis pacem” has real power because of the cumulative power of the whole. The final gestures do give the impression that the greatness of this work has been honoured, despite the caveats above.

Solomon’s arrangements of the “London” Symphonies for string quartet, flute and fortepiano are well worth hearing. The more delicate passages of the slow introduction to the first movement take on a real fragility that takes them into the realm of chamber music tenderness. The Allegro has freshness — and an exposition repeat — while the chamber scoring allows lines to speak clearly and in unforced fashion. The Adagio’s lines, graced with Tara O’Connor’s eloquent flute, seem almost unbearably interior in this scoring; something due to the excellence of the performers. Interestingly the Menuetto loses little in stomping rusticity yet gains much in the caressing phrases of its Trio. Similarly the cat-and-mouse cheekiness of the finale comes across most attractively.

A lovely disc.

Colin Clarke