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Tom Moore
Early Music America, October 2010

Who really knows Haydn? Such a productive composer, and over such a long life-span (1732–1809), stretching from the High Baroque to the beginnings of the Romantic period. And who really knows his masses? Haydn and Mozart were the last composers for whom settings of the mass were an important part of their oeuvre, and yet it is rare to have the opportunity to hear these works, whether in concert performance or in their original context in the Catholic liturgy, certainly by comparison with the instrumental works by these masters.

Of the works in this well-filled box, at least five have been staples on recordings since the beginning of the LP era: the Nelsonmesse, Paukenmesse, Harmoniemesse, Schöpfungsmesse, and Theresienmesse (nos. 9 and 11–14 in the Hoboken listing). These are all substantial works of about 40 minutes each in length, all dating from close to the end of Haydn’s life (between 1796 and 1802, after the master’s two successful visits to London). This is also the period which saw the production of the two great oratorios in the Handelian tradition, The Creation and The Seasons. The writing combines the best of operatic writing (solos and ensembles), Handelian fugal counterpoint, and brilliant writing for strings, brass, and timpani. In their qualities, these masses are superior to the often less-than-committed writing for the church by Mozart and more congenial to the voice than the few sacred works by Beethoven. The high points, which are not few, can be simply exhilarating (my personal favorite: the Theresienmesse, with writing that sweeps the listener along and modern, chromatic fugue subjects [“Et vitam venturi”]).

The performances, recorded over the y ears 2001–2008 by the choir of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York, with Rebel Baroque Orchestra, under the batons of J. Owen Burdick and Jane Glover, are exceptional. The sound of the choir is clean and clear, with the sopranos and altos so bright that I was convinced that this was one of the best ensembles of boy trebles I had ever heard (until I checked the booklet). The brilliance of the orchestra’s execution is everything one would expect from Rebel, one of our best period ensembles. The various vocal soloists (too many to list here) are entirely capable. The combination of the performances and the sound of the space in which they were were recorded (excellent engineering) mean that this is a collection to be treasured, a monument for Trinity Church, for New York, and for early music fans nationally to be proud of. Bravo!

William Hedley
MusicWeb International, February 2010

All Haydn’s masses in a single box! Well, not quite. A note in the booklet explains that two early masses are “fragmentary, and of uncertain provenance”. The box therefore contains twelve mass settings and the Stabat Mater. Listening to this glorious music, and comparing the performances to others, has been a labour of love…The booklet is particularly well produced. All details and dates pertaining to the works and the complex recording project are given, including the names of individual soloists which change from one mass to another, as well as those of the orchestral players. Notes on the music are informative and readable, and the history of the project itself is outlined in an essay entitled “Conductors’ Notes”. We learn here that the recordings, made over a period of seven years, were instigated by J. Owen Burdick, then Director of Music at Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York. He left the post in January 2008 with three masses still to record. Jane Glover conducted these in September of that year…

To sum up, these performances are technically highly accomplished and the recorded sound is most acceptable. The accompanying material is sound and informative. The set is, then, invaluable for anyone who wants to make acquaintance with all of Haydn’s masses, and all at a bargain price.

David Hurwitz, January 2010

The Cäcilienmesse (Missa Cellensis in honorem BVM) appeared initially on Hänssler, at which time I welcomed it wholeheartedly. I’m very pleased to report that the remaining Masses sustain the high standard of that initial release. Granted, the REBEL Baroque Orchestra has the usual “authentic sound”, with minimal vibrato—which is stylistically questionable, especially in liturgical music of this period. But the group plays very well across the board, and more to the point, the performances are all “of a piece”. In other words, balances between voices and instruments are generally excellent, and the acoustics of Trinity Church (Wall St, New York) flatter both the singers and the players. These relatively small forces make a full, satisfying sound.

There are also almost no weak links here vocally. Among the soloists, soprano Ann Hoyt does a magnificent job in the opening Kyrie of the Lord Nelson Mass, though in the same work bass Andrew Nolen is only average (but blends well with his colleagues). Hoyt also has the major role in the Stabat Mater, the presence of which in this set constitutes a considerable bonus. It is Haydn’s largest liturgical work that is not a mass setting, and it’s very movingly played and sung (save for the somewhat unpleasant muted violins in the second movement).

Jane Glover conducts the Theresienmesse, Creation Mass, and Harmoniemesse, and J. Owen Burdick takes the rest, both with consistently fine results. The Trinity Choir deserves special mention: Burdick has trained them superbly, and they sing with unfailing vigor and sensitivity. In sum, if you’re looking for a complete set of Haydn masses on period instruments, then this very reasonably priced set deserves serious consideration…

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, November 2009

The many CDs and sets issued in this anniversary year have provided an opportunity to rethink our reactions to Haydn’s output and to explore lesser known parts of it. The sheer quantity that he wrote as well as its quality means that demands on our purses and our time are already considerable, but I do urge you very strongly to make room for this issue. It contains some of Haydn’s very greatest and most life-affirming music in performances that match those qualities to a quite extraordinary degree. Whatever mood I have been in or however I have felt before listening to these discs I have always finished feeling markedly better. What a composer and what performances!

The last six of Haydn’s Masses, from the Missa in tempore belli (Hob.XXII.9) to the Harmoniemesse (Hob.XXII.14), are clearly amongst his greatest works but getting their character right in performance is much more difficult than one might suppose. I have listened to many performances live and on disc that simply missed the point by being too heavy, technically inadequate, badly balanced or just plain dull. The great virtue of the performances here is their constant alertness to the changing character of the music, and to its essential underlying rhythms. The words “dancing”, “bouncy” and “characterful” appear repeatedly in my notes. The performances are not perfect but the music’s underlying humanity is never in doubt. This applies possibly even more to the earlier and less frequently performed works. The Nikolaimesse for instance has a delightful rural charm, whereas the Cäcilienmesse is presented without apology as the amazing and virtuoso collection of styles that it comprises. I still find the Stabat Mater one of the composer’s less interesting works, but even this work seemed much more enjoyable than usual in this fresh, unstuffy and very clear performance.

What makes all of this surprising is that none of the performers, apart from Jane Glover who took over for the last three recordings, is well known, at least on this side of the Atlantic, and yet my comparisons give them the edge over starrier versions by Hickox, Guest and Bernstein—to mention a few I have listened to recently. The choir is that of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York, and all the soloists are drawn from it. Bearing in mind Haydn’s virtuoso writing especially for the sopranos this might seem like a recipe for disaster but in fact the uniformly high quality of the soloists is one of the great glories of the set. Ann Hoyt, in particular, who sings soprano solos on most of the earlier recordings, is fully the equal of most of the much better known soloists on earlier sets. Her somewhat boy-like purity of tone and her sensitivity to the text and musical line are worth returning to over and over again. Maybe she is helped a little by the recording—it is difficult to judge the size of her voice as recorded—but the effect as it is presented here is stunning. Her main successor in the later recordings under Jane Glover—Nicole Palmer—is more conventional in tone but still well in command of the music. The many other soloists are also good, and above all work as a team, an essential quality in these works.

Unsurprisingly the rest of the choir is of a similar high standard, singing with accuracy, musicality and fervour which it would be hard to beat. The orchestra, sometimes listed as the REBEL Baroque Orchestra and at others as the Rebel Baroque Orchestra, are a period instrument group who play with real character. One surprise is the organ, which makes a delightfully burbling sound in its solo moments, but is apparently a digital instrument, the church’s pipe organ having been severely damaged on 9/11.

The real hero of the set is however the main conductor, J Owen Burdick, who was director of music at Trinity Church from 1990 to 2008 when he left under difficult circumstances. The bouncing rhythms, clear textures, varied articulation and sheer exuberance are surely the result of his work, and the great success of this set is largely the result of these factors. He does have some idiosyncrasies, certainly, in particular his liking for heavy slowing down at the end of sections of the Mass. After a while I came to expect this, if never to enjoy it, but it is a small price to pay for the quality of the rest of the performances. The three performances conducted by Jane Glover are clearly different in style, to my ears more conventional in their underlying rhythmic attack, but they are by no means an unworthy conclusion to the series…What matters is that this is set gives amazing satisfaction in music of supreme quality. For me this has been the highlight of my anniversary year listening.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, October 2009

Hats off to Naxos for soldiering on with its “Complete Haydn” project. I believe there has only been one other recording that grouped all the masses together (on London), but that did not include the lovely and moving Stabat Mater. This is indeed a monumental project, and all those involved in it deserve a big round of applause. Even if the vocal soloists are not all of operatic calibre (sacred music recordings seldom attract the big names), the performances are never less than respectable. The Trinity Choir and Rebel Baroque Orchestra manage a big sound when called upon; conducting roles are shared by J. Owen Burdick and Jane Glover. The acoustics of Trinity Church in NYC are very good and in some respects (clarity, for one) preferable to the grandeur of a European cathedral setting.

James Leonard, October 2009

It is good to have all eleven of Haydn’s masses collected in one eight-disc set—the short early masses, as well as the long late masses, plus the Stabat Mater—performed by the Trinity Choir and the REBEL Baroque Orchestra, with conducting duties shared by J. Owen Burdick and Jane Glover. The musicians are clearly committed to doing their best by the music, and there are many moments of beauty and grandeur…Naxos’ digital sound is very live and vivid…

Rick Anderson
Baker & Taylor CD Hotlist, October 2009

It would be difficult to overstate the importance or impressiveness of this monumental recording, which constitutes the first-ever collection of the complete Haydn masses performed on period instruments. The project was begun nearly ten years ago, and after the first installment was released the host label went out of business. The project was rescued by the Naxos label and the recording sessions then continued for another eight years, and are now available at budget-line price in a slightly (and inexplicably) oversized box. The performances perfectly balance classical elegance, devotional intensity and rich, full-bodied tone, and should find a warm welcome in any classical collection. Absolutely wonderful.

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