Of Haydn's last great masses, the 'Nelson' one is probably the most famous.
This is in no small measure due to Sir David Willcock's outstanding Decca
recording from way back in 1962 that led the way in scoring such works for
chamber size forces. Of course, we have come a long way since then and this
Hickox recording has been eagerly awaited since his current cycle of these
choral works has been of consistently high standard throughout.
The delightful sound of period instruments lends an added urgency to this
'Missa in Anguustis'; indeed the scoring is subtly palpable and highly tense.
The opening 'Kyrie' is a case in point with whirling kettledrums and acidic
strings making for a splendid cocktail. Hickox's urgent tempo is very much
in the mould of the Wilcox version. Susan Gritton's lovely contributions
in the 'Gloria' are an added bonus and the theatricality of that movement
finds Hickox tickled pink throughout. All the other soloists are impeccable
although Varcoe is occasionally too studied. The ominous sounds of the Credo
are beautifully portrayed whilst the usual martial overtones in the Agnus
Dei are remarkably underlined.
All in all, this recording of the Nelson Mass can claim to be the most satisfying
at the moment. A delightful bonus is to be found in the rare 'Ave Regina',
not a masterpiece but pleasant nonetheless. The same can be said for the
early Missa Brevis, short but quite profound in its choral handling. Excellent
Chandos recording and the usual striking presentation should win this disc
many admirers and is self-recommending for those who have taken the dip into
Richard Hickox's Haydn mass series.
and another view from Peter Grahame Woolf
Composed rapidly during summer 1798 after completing The Creation, Haydn
made a virtue of necessity (dismissal of Prince Esterhazy's windband to reduce
expenditure) with his theatrical and war-like scoring of the new mass for
strings with only 3 trumpets, timpani and organ, which he played himself.
(The Nelson association is spurious.) Its opening is arresting and the tension
and exceptional beauty of this wonderful music never flags. In earlier decades
within my lifetime the Haydns masses were neglected and undervalued in England
as being insufficiently solemn.
This recording in Blackheath Halls has all the immediacy and tension of a
live performance and rates amongst my most exciting listening of the year.
The excellent soloists are well balanced with chorus and the early music
orchestra Collegium Musicum 90, whose instruments are detailed in the exemplary
notes. The youthful Ave Regina has an Italianate style for the soprano soloist,
Susan Gritton. The Missa Brevis, composed when he was about 17, was rediscovered
in his old age by Haydn himself, who took pleasure in its "certain youthful
fire" with florid parts for two solo sopranos.
An enormously satisfying CD, not to be missed.
Peter Grahame Woolf