On the face of it this set looks a real bargain, eight masses on four discs for around the price of four Naxos discs, however, you do have the benefit of notes with the Naxos discs, here the booklet only contains the track information and personnel, no biographical information on the works or texts are included. So, despite three of these discs being conducted by Helmuth Rilling, a conductor whose work I admire, I would find this set difficult to recommend to anyone unless they have other recordings of the masses that have at least half decent booklets, thankfully I have at least two other recordings of each of these works, all of which have good notes and texts.
Musically this set is a bargain, with all the performances being at least good, and that despite all my preferred performances of these works being by period ensembles, with my particular favourites being the five discs conducted by Bruno Weil on Sony; it was a shame that he was not allowed to complete the cycle of masses. Here we only have one Mass, the Missa Brevis that is given by a true period ensemble. However, in the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart historically we have an ensemble who, although largely playing modern instruments, have through their recordings of Bach, offered a historically informed performances of these works.
Haydn composed fourteen masses in total over a span of just over fifty-years, with the Harmoniemesse being his last major work composed in 1802. The earliest mass presented in this box set is the Missa Brevis of 1750, which although it is given the title of number one in the Hoboken catalogue is now thought to have been the second mass he composed, with the Missa rorate coeli desuper Hob XXII:3 now generally regarded as being the first. The performance of this mass is very good, it is the one by only true period ensemble, the REBEL Baroque Orchestra play well and the are ably backed up by the New York Trinity Church Choir, interestingly, this recording also appears as part of the Naxos complete edition of Haydn’s Masses. At twelve minutes long, you get the feeling that this has been included so that each disc could contain two masses, but it is a worthy inclusion.
The next mass chronologically is the Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissamae Verginis Mariae, which is often known as the Cäcilienmesse, a name given to it much later. Again, the Hob. number, 5, is at odds with the date of composition in that although this mass was originally composed in 1766, and thus the third mass completed, the full score was lost in a fire, so Haydn rewrote the mass which accounts for its later date, 1773, and higher Hob. number of 5. Although the forces employed here give a good performance, it does not compare to that by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and the Academy of Ancient music (417 125-2), whose women soloists are an improvement on Eser-Streit and Buter.
The remaining six masses are all conducted by Helmuth Rilling, who seems to have as much affinity with the music of Haydn that he does with Bach. For me these three discs contain the strongest performances; whether in Stuttgart or Oregon he has the edge over Guglhör and Burdick. These are performances that shine in places, just listen to the Benedictus of the Theresienmesse or the central section of the Gloria of the Paukenmesse with its solo cello, and you will see what I mean. Both the performances of the Theresienmesse and the Paukenmesse are very good as a whole, but it is the performance of Haydn’s final mass, the Harmoniemesse that deserves all the plaudits, the inclusion of the wind instruments long making this a favourite mass of mine, and here it is given an excellent performance, which if it doesn’t quite eclipse Sigiswald Kuijken on DHM (05472 77337 2), it is not that far behind. With very good renditions of the remaining masses this set must be in the reckoning for any collection.
As you might have surmised, I am enjoying what I am hearing in this set, it is just a pity that Hänssler Classic failed to include any meaningful notation with this set, the track-list is just not enough. If someone has a collection of Haydn’s masses and knows the history behind them, well then, this set would fit nicely in their survey, however, if you were coming at these wonderful works anew, well then you would need some information as to how they fit into Haydn’s oeuvre, and that is what missing, and no matter how good the performance, this set is turning its back on those for whom these works are unknown.
CD 1 Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissamae Verginis Mariae “Erste Mariazeller Masse”,Hob XXII:5 ‘Cäcilienmesse’ [62:42]
Priska Eser-Streit (Soprano), Anne Buter (Alto), Christoph Genz (Tenor), Thomas Hamberger (Bass),
Orpheus Chor München, Neue Hofkapelle München, Gerd Guglhör. Missa brevisin F major, Hob XXII:1 [11:45]
New York Trinity Church Choir, REBEL Baroque Orchestra, Owen Burdick CD 2 Missa in angustilis in D minor, Hob XXII:11 ‘Nelsonmesse’ [38:01]
Letizia Scherrer (Soprano), Roxana Constantinescu (Alto),
Maximilian Schmitt (Tenor), Michael Nagy (Bass)
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Helmuth Rilling Missa solemnis in B flat major, Hob XXII:13 ‘Schöpfungmesse’ [40:57]
Donna Brown (Soprano), Roxana Constantinescu (Alto),
Lothar Odinius (Tenor), Markus Eiche (Bass)
Oregon Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra, Helmuth Rilling CD 3 Missa in B flat major, Hob XXII:14 ‘Harmoniemesse’ [40:57]
Simona Šaturová (soprano), Daniela Sindram (alto),
James Taylor (tenor), Michael Nagy (bass)
Gächinger Kantorei, Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SWR, Helmuth Rilling Missa ‘Sancti Bernardi von Offida’ in B-Flat Major, Hob. XXII:10 ‘Heiligmesse’ [34:52]
Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Ingeborg Danz (alto), Lothar Odinius (tenor), Michael Nagy (bass),
*Linh Kauffmann (soprano), *David Dong-Geun Kim (bass) (*Et incarnatus est)
Oregon Bach Festival Choir, Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra, Helmuth Rilling CD 4 Missa in B-Flat Major, Hob. XXII:12 ‘Theresienmesse’ [36:55]
Simona Šaturová (soprano), Roxana Constantinescu (alto),
Corby Welch (tenor), Yorck Felix Speer (bass)
Oregon Bach Festival Choir, Oregon Bach Festival Orchestra, Helmuth Rilling Missa ‘In tempore belli’ in C Major, Hob. XXII:9 ‘Paukenmesse’ [38:24]
Ruth Ziesak (soprano), Ingeborg Danz (alto),
Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Michel Brodard (bass)
Gächinger Kantorei, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, Helmuth Rilling
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