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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Mass in Time of War – Missa in tempore belli, “Paukenmesse” [40:33]
“Nelson” Mass – Missa in Angustiis [38:58]
Rachel Nicholls and Grace Davidson (sopranos), Anna Harvey (mezzo), Mark Wilde (tenor), Ashley Riches (baritone), City of London Choir, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Hilary Davan Wetton, conductor
rec. Cadogan Hall, London, 6 June 2016.
RPO RPOSP054 [81:06]

The most impressive thing here is the wonderfully buoyant orchestral playing of the Royal Philharmonic. They do their level best to energise a somewhat lacklustre City of London Choir which generally fails fully to bring to life Haydn’s vivid climaxes and dramatic posturing in these, possibly his two most colourful and dramatic Mass settings. Having said that, Hilary Davan Wetton, their long-time Director, has drilled them to a very high level of security, and what they may lack in punchiness, they make up for in polish and precision of pitch. Diction is always very clear, although they make a bit of meal out of the “R” in the “Credo” of the Paukenmesse, while choral articulation is always crisp in Haydn’s characteristically florid runs, even if it is not really a match for the incisive RPO violins in the “Quoniam tu solus sanctus”. The sopranos often feel a little suppressed, but this pays dividends in the clarity of the inner texture.

The solo quartets in both Masses are very fine indeed, and I am particularly taken by the delicious purity and absolute precision of chromatic pitching from Grace Davidson in the “Paukenmesse”. Indeed one of the real highlights of the disc is the way in which she takes the lead from the delicate orchestral introduction to the “Benedictus” of the Paukenmesse and, with Anna Harvey and Ashley Riches adding their delightfully tip-toeing dialogue, turns this into a movement of absolute enchantment. Of the soloists only Mark Wilde occasionally seems a little strained and ill-at-ease, although he always fits admirably into the quartet as an ensemble.

For the “Nelson” Mass, Grace Davidson is replaced in the solo quartet by the more robust voice of Rachel Nicholls, and I am not sure this change is always beneficial to the performance as a whole. She seems a little loose in the quicker figures of the ”Kyrie”, a problem which seems also to affect the choral sopranos. Again, however, the other soloists make excellent contributions, Anna Harvey in particular, producing the most sumptuous of vocal tones.

If it had seemed a little lacklustre in the Paukenmesse, the choral singing for the “Nelson” Mass has much more of a sense of action, and Wetton, whose direction throughout is fresh and purposeful, draws some spirited singing from them, not least in the “Gloria”, which he takes at a cracking pace driven on by some strongly pointed accents. He paces and measures the dynamics of the “Sanctus” magnificently, and the choir responds superbly. The pounding timpani and trumpet calls of the “Benedictus” have an appropriate sense of menace about them which is almost spine-tingling in its effect. The pressure Wetton has so painstakingly built up over the movement is released in an exuberant “Hosanna in excelsis”.

The recording quality is excellent, the sound fresh and vivid, and with all orchestral detail (including a somewhat piercing organ in the “Nelson” Mass – played with great agility by Stephen Disley) crystal clear throughout.

Marc Rochester



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