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Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, January 2011

The usual practice for record companies, where complete cycles of works are concerned, is to release them first individually and then, sometime later, to box them up as multi-disc sets offered at a special price. Here Naxos appears to have done the opposite. In September 2009, an eight-disc boxed set appeared on the label (8.508009) containing 12 of Haydn’s 14 extant masses, plus a Stabat Mater. Missing from the survey were the fragment from the uncompleted Missa Sunt bona mixta malis, Hob. 22/2, and the Missa Rorate coeli desuper, Hob. 22/3. The CD at hand is one disc from that set rereleased as a single. The performances were recorded in 2002 (Nikolaimesse) and 2007 (Nelsonmesse). Whether Naxos intends to release the remaining seven discs as singles I don’t know

The two masses on this disc were written 25 years apart. The so-called “Saint Nicolai” Mass was composed in 1772, and is numbered sixth in order of the composer’s Mass settings. By this time, Haydn had already been in the employ of the Esterházy court for more than 10 years, so it’s likely that this Mass had a double purpose, being written to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6, and to honor the name day of the composer’s patron, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy.

Of more modest ambition and forces than Haydn’s later masses, the orchestration calls for strings, two oboes, two horns, and organ. Parts for trumpet and timpani are believed to have been added later. Belonging to a category classified as “pastoral masses” associated with Advent, the music is intended to reflect imagery surrounding the birth of Christ through “lilting meters (the opening and closing movements in 6/4 are unusual in the Classical period), simple melodies, and voice-leading in parallel thirds,” all of which contribute to the rosy picture of shepherds abiding in the field and a cozy portrait of the infant Jesus in the manger.

The series of six masses that Haydn produced, more or less, one per year (two are dated 1796, while 1797 and 1800 are skipped) commenced in 1796 with the Missa sancti Bernardi von Offida (aka Heiligmesse) and ended in 1802 with the Harmoniemesse. The Missa in Angustiis (Mass in Troubled Times), which later came to be known as the “Nelson” Mass, is third in the series, written in 1798.

It is now known that Haydn’s original title, Missa in Angustiis, had nothing to do with Nelson’s victory over Napoleon in the Battle of Aboukir in 1798, which the composer had no knowledge of at the time he was composing it. The “troubled times” of the title may have been a reference to Austria’s internal unrest, or even, according to note author Jennifer More Glagov, something as prosaic as “worry over trying to meet a deadline.”

My own theory is that Haydn was “troubled” (perhaps “vexed” would be a better word) by the downturn in his employer’s financial situation, which forced the prince to lay off his Harmonie (wind band) as a cost-saving measure. This left Haydn deprived of the wind players he took for granted in his preceding Heiligmesse and Missa tempore belli (Mass in Time of War), aka Paukenmesse (Kettledrum Mass). For the “Nelson” Mass he had to make do with strings, three trumpets, organ, and possibly timpani; but in the end, he turned adversity to advantage, writing what may be the greatest mass of the final six.

The playing of the Rebel Baroque Orchestra is excellent. It crackles with high-spirited energy, and exhibits a tonal richness and accuracy of pitch not always associated with period-instrument ensembles. New York’s Trinity Choir is a mixed chorus of 22 voices (according to the booklet photo), which is about the right size and weight to give Haydn’s choral writing sufficient bulk without muddying the contrapuntal interplay between sections of the ensemble. Unfortunately, the reverb of New York’s Trinity Church, the recording venue, tends to obscure the words being sung. The problem is less pronounced for the vocal soloists, whose diction remains clear.

If you’re interested in only these two masses, and at a bargain price—except for the above-noted problem of the choir’s words being swallowed up by the reverb—this Naxos rerelease is a good buy. The Rebel players are top-notch, no reservations aside;




Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, October 2010

Naxos already had a decent recording of the ‘Nelson’ Mass (8.554416, with the ‘Little Organ’ Mass, Hob.XXII/7—see review) on which soloists, the Hungarian Radio Chorus and the Nikolaus Esterházy Sinfonia were conducted by Béla Drahos. The new recording, Volume 3 of the Naxos series of the Haydn Masses, is also available in an 8-CD box set of the twelve complete Haydn Masses and Stabat Mater (8.508009: see review by John Sheppard—Recording of the Month—and review by William Hedley).

The Nikolaimesse, recorded in 2002, gets the new recording off to a very good start. The music is lighter, less vintage Haydn than its more familiar companion, with mainly brisk tempi much in the manner of the short early Masses which Mozart composed for his Salzburg patron Archbishop Coloredo. It also receives a fine performance and recording. The soloists don’t merit a listing on the rear insert, but they are named inside the booklet, as they deserve to be. If I select Ann Hoyt, the soprano, for special praise, that should not be at the expense of the others.

To be honest, I had not expected much from this CD—I hadn’t heard of any of the performers and I’d forgotten the warm reception which the complete box had received—but the performance of the Nikolaimesse alone makes it worth the modest price. All concerned convince me that this early work is at least the equal of any of Mozart’s Masses, with the exception of the Coronation (K317) the ‘Great’ Mass (K427)and, of course, the Requiem (K626).

The ‘Nelson’ Mass is, I think, at least the equal of the three best Mozart Masses. I shall continue to give it that name as a kind of shorthand, though it has very little to do with Lord Nelson: Haydn nicknames have a habit of sticking even when they are inappropriate—there is at least enough evidence to doubt that it was at a performance of Symphony No.96 that the heavy chandelier narrowly missed causing serious injury, yet the name ‘Miracle’ continues to be attached to that work. Haydn himself called it Missa in angustiis, Mass in straitened times, but it’s easier and shorter to continue to call it the ‘Nelson’.

The opening Kyrie announces that this is a more serious work than the Nikolaimesse. As Jennifer More Glagov notes in the excellent booklet, the lack of wind players—the Prince had just dismissed them as an economy measure—apart from three (specially hired?) trumpets gives the work an undeniably martial tone.

The performers again give an excellent account of themselves. Only Ann Hoyt remains from the earlier line-up and continues to sing impressively—my wife came in as I was listening and was very surprised to discover that this was the voice of a singer whom neither she nor I had heard before. Naxos and others please note, we want to hear more of her. The other soloists and the choir also step up to the plate and the recording, though thicker than for the earlier work, recorded five years earlier, is more than adequate. The last semi-professional performance of the ‘Nelson’ that I heard was spoiled by a soprano who out-sang everyone else, but that is certainly not the case here. I understand that all the soloists are members of the Trinity Choir, which must make it a formidable place for the musically inclined to worship.

John Sheppard (hereafter JS) complained of Burdick’s habit of slowing at certain points, but some of these are traditional. In the Creed, for example, the slowing at the end of track 16 on the words descendit de cælis prepares for the more marked traditional emphasis on et incarnatus est in the next section, where it used to be expected that all would kneel or bow deeply. In any case, JS soon began to be as untroubled by this practice as I was.

William Hedley (hereafter WH) commented on the reverberant acoustic of the Trinity Church but I really was not troubled by this—different audio systems react differently to reverberant recordings. Nor was I really troubled by the other detailed criticisms which he makes. Rather than repeat these here, I refer you to his review. Whilst I admit the validity of just about all of them, I cannot consider them a serious handicap to an overall recommendation.

WH is more than a little hard on the diction—the syllables are frequently chopped up in the wrong places, but the demise of Latin in the school curriculum makes it almost inevitable that a choir’s familiarity with that language can no more be taken for granted than a knowledge of Japanese. (Actually, the latter is a more frequent visitor to the modern UK secondary curriculum). Haydn would have expected to hear the harder Austro-Germanic pronunciation of Latin, with hard ‘g’ in virginis, and ‘c’ in crucifixus, for example; I’m pleased to report that all concerned here take the softer Italianate course.

JS raises the possibility that the set as a whole is superior even to Hickox (Chandos CHAN0599, also available separately) or Guest (Argo/Decca). I’m not quite sure that I would go that far, but I was impressed enough by the single CD under consideration to wish to sample more of the set via the Naxos Music Library.

I’ve already praised the quality of the Naxos notes. One small complaint concerns the absence of texts, but the Tridentine Latin Mass is pretty well known and the texts and translations are available online, as indicated above: they can be yours even without buying the CD...but I can’t imagine purchasers of the present CD being disappointed with J Owen Burdick’s performances. Having heard the recording right through once, I couldn’t wait to hear it all again, instead of taking the usual time out to gather my impressions.



Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, October 2010

BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

Naxos already had a decent recording of the ‘Nelson’ Mass (8.554416, with the ‘Little Organ’ Mass, Hob.XXII/7—see review) on which soloists, the Hungarian Radio Chorus and the Nikolaus Esterházy Sinfonia were conducted by Béla Drahos. The new recording, Volume 3 of the Naxos series of the Haydn Masses, is also available in an 8-CD box set of the twelve complete Haydn Masses and Stabat Mater (8.508009: see review by John Sheppard—Recording of the Month—and review by William Hedley).

The Nikolaimesse, recorded in 2002, gets the new recording off to a very good start. The music is lighter, less vintage Haydn than its more familiar companion, with mainly brisk tempi much in the manner of the short early Masses which Mozart composed for his Salzburg patron Archbishop Coloredo. It also receives a fine performance and recording. The soloists don’t merit a listing on the rear insert, but they are named inside the booklet, as they deserve to be. If I select Ann Hoyt, the soprano, for special praise, that should not be at the expense of the others.

To be honest, I had not expected much from this CD—I hadn’t heard of any of the performers and I’d forgotten the warm reception which the complete box had received—but the performance of the Nikolaimesse alone makes it worth the modest price. All concerned convince me that this early work is at least the equal of any of Mozart’s Masses, with the exception of the Coronation (K317) the ‘Great’ Mass (K427)and, of course, the Requiem (K626).

The ‘Nelson’ Mass is, I think, at least the equal of the three best Mozart Masses. I shall continue to give it that name as a kind of shorthand, though it has very little to do with Lord Nelson: Haydn nicknames have a habit of sticking even when they are inappropriate—there is at least enough evidence to doubt that it was at a performance of Symphony No.96 that the heavy chandelier narrowly missed causing serious injury, yet the name ‘Miracle’ continues to be attached to that work. Haydn himself called it Missa in angustiis, Mass in straitened times, but it’s easier and shorter to continue to call it the ‘Nelson’.

The opening Kyrie announces that this is a more serious work than the Nikolaimesse. As Jennifer More Glagov notes in the excellent booklet, the lack of wind players—the Prince had just dismissed them as an economy measure—apart from three (specially hired?) trumpets gives the work an undeniably martial tone.

The performers again give an excellent account of themselves. Only Ann Hoyt remains from the earlier line-up and continues to sing impressively—my wife came in as I was listening and was very surprised to discover that this was the voice of a singer whom neither she nor I had heard before. Naxos and others please note, we want to hear more of her. The other soloists and the choir also step up to the plate and the recording, though thicker than for the earlier work, recorded five years earlier, is more than adequate. The last semi-professional performance of the ‘Nelson’ that I heard was spoiled by a soprano who out-sang everyone else, but that is certainly not the case here. I understand that all the soloists are members of the Trinity Choir, which must make it a formidable place for the musically inclined to worship.

John Sheppard (hereafter JS) complained of Burdick’s habit of slowing at certain points, but some of these are traditional. In the Creed, for example, the slowing at the end of track 16 on the words descendit de cælis prepares for the more marked traditional emphasis on et incarnatus est in the next section, where it used to be expected that all would kneel or bow deeply. In any case, JS soon began to be as untroubled by this practice as I was.

William Hedley (hereafter WH) commented on the reverberant acoustic of the Trinity Church but I really was not troubled by this—different audio systems react differently to reverberant recordings. Nor was I really troubled by the other detailed criticisms which he makes. Rather than repeat these here, I refer you to his review. Whilst I admit the validity of just about all of them, I cannot consider them a serious handicap to an overall recommendation.

WH is more than a little hard on the diction—the syllables are frequently chopped up in the wrong places, but the demise of Latin in the school curriculum makes it almost inevitable that a choir’s familiarity with that language can no more be taken for granted than a knowledge of Japanese. (Actually, the latter is a more frequent visitor to the modern UK secondary curriculum). Haydn would have expected to hear the harder Austro-Germanic pronunciation of Latin, with hard ‘g’ in virginis, and ‘c’ in crucifixus, for example; I’m pleased to report that all concerned here take the softer Italianate course.

JS raises the possibility that the set as a whole is superior even to Hickox (Chandos CHAN0599, also available separately) or Guest (Argo/Decca). I’m not quite sure that I would go that far, but I was impressed enough by the single CD under consideration to wish to sample more of the set via the Naxos Music Library.

I’ve already praised the quality of the Naxos notes. One small complaint concerns the absence of texts, but the Tridentine Latin Mass is pretty well known and the texts and translations are available online, as indicated above: they can be yours even without buying the CD...but I can’t imagine purchasers of the present CD being disappointed with J Owen Burdick’s performances. Having heard the recording right through once, I couldn’t wait to hear it all again, instead of taking the usual time out to gather my impressions.




David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, July 2010

These performances, taken from Naxos’ complete Haydn Mass edition (on balance the finest set available), are well-nigh ideal. Two quibbles: the male soloists aren’t quite as good as the women, though they are certainly satisfactory, and in the Nelson Mass the timpani aren’t as well captured as are the trumpets in a couple of spots. But these are minor issues in the grand scheme of things. The Trinity Choir sings beautifully, soprano Ann Hoyt is magnificent in her many solo spots in the Nelson Mass, and J. Owen Burdick’s conducting is incredibly exciting. He really pushes the tempos in the Nelson Mass’s opening Kyrie, Gloria, and concluding Dona nobis pacem, but never at the expense of clarity, while the pastoral qualities of the Nikolai Mass blossom nicely.

The REBEL Baroque Orchestra sounds great everywhere but when the violins have a cantabile melody, at which points their period mannerisms tend to get in the way; but this isn’t a big deal in such predominantly vocal music. Since the Nikolai Mass is still something of a rarity, this coupling earns a warm recommendation, particularly if you’re not interested in buying the complete set.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2010

It was 1798, Europe had fallen into economic turmoil amid the Napoleonic wars, and Haydn’s employer, Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, had reduced the size of his orchestra to a few strings. It was against this backdrop that Haydn composed the Missa in angustiis (Mass in time of affliction), though he did import three trumpets and timpani to inject dramatic effects. It would seem a curious choice to celebrate the nameday of his employers wife, though the music itself proves far more joyful than the title suggests. Sadly it is still confused by a nickname that was added later to increase its commercial viability, Haydn simply unaware of Admiral Nelson’s famous victory at the time of composition. Twenty-six years earlier the Missa Sancti Nicolai was probably offered as a gesture of thanks to the Prince for a favour received. It shows signs of being hastily put together, though Gratias agimus tibi for soprano and choir is as lovely as anything he composed for the church. I wish the final Dona nobis pacem had been taken a little faster to add a crowning glory. The disc forms the third volume of the complete masses performed by the Trinity Choir, a professional ensemble based in New York’s Wall Street church. It much reminds me of my local Bach Choir that introduced me to these works as a young man, the unpretentious feel of a chamber group being much different to the high-profile choirs represented in the catalogue. The choral singing back in the 2002 recording of the Nicolai mass sounds markedly more happy than for the 2007 Nelson Mass, both works having the fresh soprano voice of Ann Hoyt among the soloists, while the period instrument Rebel Baroque Orchestra offer good solid support.






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