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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Missa Cellensis in honorem Beatissimae Virginis Mariae Hob XXII: 5 (1776) [70.15]
Niccolň JOMMELLI (1714-1774)
Te Deum in D major [13.14]
Mass in D Major [39.24]
Haydn: Lucia Popp (soprano), Doris Soffel (alto), Horst Laubenthal (tenor), Kurt Moll (bass)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Symphonieorchester des Bayerishchen Rundfunks/Rafael Kubelík
Jomelli: Judy Berry (soprano), Marta Benačková (alto), John La Pierre (tenor), Nikolaus Meer (bass)
Prager Kammerchor
Virtuosi de Praga/Hilary Griffiths
rec. Basilika Ottobeuren 1982 (live, Haydn); Prague 10/12 November 1997 (Jomelli)
ORFEO MP2101 [70.15 + 53.14]

This is a most welcome issue at a very reasonable price. A justly famous recording of the Missa Cellensis is accompanied by interesting, attractive choral music from Jommelli in admirable performances.

The Missa Cellensis comes from the middle period of Haydn’s career. As the last half-dozen annual Masses of his career (of a total of 14) demonstrate, he was one of the great composers of masses. His attitude to his masses is interesting: he is recorded as thinking his brother’s many masses – which were the pinnacle of his achievement – superior to his own, yet said “I am rather proud of my masses”.

Some find the masses too bright and joyous for such pious content, but that judgment is perhaps too trite for Haydn’s spirituality. Of that charge, Haydn said “I know no other way of doing it. I can only give what is within me. But when I think of God, my heart is so filled with joy that the notes simply flow from my pen. And since God gave me a joyful heart, he is sure to forgive me if I serve him joyfully.” When for another composer, the repeated ‘miserere’ or ‘eleison’ might be a moment of hushed doubt, for Haydn the setting has a confidence that forgiveness and mercy will be granted.

Missa Cellensis is the longest and perhaps most interesting of Haydn’s masses. The title refers to a mass for St Cecilia, and it appears to have been composed over a period: the Kyrie and Gloria in 1766, the remaining movements in 1773. The Mass is said to have been lost in a fire at Eisenstadt, and that Haydn reconstructed it from memory. Scoring is interesting, with 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings and organ, the last principally as figured bass. The absence of flutes and horns is unusual, and demands on orchestral players are considerable. The other obvious feature of this Mass is the unusual proportions between the movements. The Gloria has 821 bars, taking over 30 minutes to perform, while the Sanctus has a mere 21, and lasts a minute and a half, and the Credo has 386 bars.

Kubelík was a great Haydn conductor, his performances generally lithe, rhythmically secure, sensitive and never routine. The result is extraordinary – tension is never lost. Choral and orchestral performances are superb, and the performance benefits very much from divided strings and the soloists placed behind, rather than in front of the orchestra. And what soloists they are; Lucia Popp is in magnificent voice (when was she not?), sensitive to the meaning of the text, but special praise is due also to the splendid Horst Laubenthal in a moving and impressive performance, matched by the other soloists.

The recording – from a live performance – is sympathetic and a touch clearer than on the Arthaus Musik video recording of the same event (Arthaus DVD 109106/ Blue-ray 109107, 2015), coupled with Horst Stein conducting Weber’s Freischützmesse.

Niccolň Jommelli’s Mass also dates from 1766. Its style is somewhat operatic (unsurprising, given that he churned out around 60 operas), somewhere between Baroque and Classical, confident and inventive. The Te Deum is even more evidently dramatic, and performances are admirable. Haydn is in a different league, but taken on their own terms, as well-served as here, they are works to explore and enjoy.

Michael Wilkinson

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