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James H. North
Fanfare, September 2010

HAYDN, J.: Masses, Vol. 1 - Stabat Mater (Trinity Choir, Rebel Baroque Orchestra, Burdick) 8.572121
HAYDN, J.: Masses, Vol. 2 - Mass No. 3, "Cacilienmesse" (Trinity Choir, Rebel Baroque Orchestra, Burdick) 8.572122

J. Owen Burdick’s live performances and recordings of 12 Haydn Masses and his Stabat Mater took place over the past decade (these two in 2003 and 2001); there is now an eight-CD Naxos set. I attended at least one of the concerts, and I have heard one of the recordings. Although the booklets mention only recent developments, the choir of Trinity Church (at the head of Wall Street) has been a New York institution forever—my Brooklyn landlord in the mid 1940s, George Mead, was its director at the time. He is the earliest director (1941–68) cited by the choir’s Web site, but these CDs list Burdock as the 17th director of music at Trinity Church, so the choir must go back much farther. The church was built in 1698 (John Jay and Alexander Hamilton were members), its building twice replaced, lastly in 1846. A small church, its intimate acoustics are not disturbed by excess reverberation. We are not told the size of the choir; it sounds like three or four voices on a part, and it is so well blended that we can only occasionally pick out a single voice...Soloists are drawn from the chorus...Stephen Sands does sing a gorgeous tenor solo in the Mass’s Et incarnatus est; that whole movement goes nicely, as the acoustics are fine at its less-than-forte level. Soprano Ann Hoyt does well...In the Mass, one might ask if a small Baroque choir can afford to miss eight of its best singers; I assume they join in when not on a solo turn.

David Hurwitz, April 2010

This disc originally was released on Hänssler, but now it reappears as part of Naxos’ complete Haydn Mass Edition. There haven’t been many recordings of Haydn’s brilliant and opulent Missa Cellensis. Simon Preston contributed a decent if somewhat soft-edged version for L’Oiseau Lyre, but the outstanding recording to date has been Rafael Kubelik’s on Orfeo. Huge in conception and bold in execution, Kubelik’s very modern-instrument view convincingly places the work in the tradition of the great classical masterpieces of choral music, and only he has his sopranos sing the complete concluding phrase of the Credo as Haydn didn’t write it, high notes and all, a triumph of practical musicianship that’s far more “authentic” than the more literal renditions of the period-performance crowd.

That said, we certainly could use a first-rate view of the piece on a smaller scale, something more along the lines of what Haydn himself would have expected--and now we have one. Conductor Owen Burdick, the choir of Trinity Church, Wall Street, and the REBEL Baroque Orchestra turn in a performance that goes straight to the top of the heap in terms of clarity, energy, musicality, and ensemble coordination. One of the great strengths of these forces in a work such as this is the fact that the vocal soloists are all members of the chorus. That doesn’t mean that they are less than good: in fact, soprano Julie Liston is fantastic, with a bright timbre, agile technique, and a real trill to boot. She blows away Susan Gritton on Richard Hickox’s unimpressive effort on Chandos. Beyond that, having the soloists sing with the chorus keeps voices and instruments on the same plane, so there’s no distracting change of perspective as brief solos alternate with choral and orchestral interjections.

Of course, none of this would matter if the rest of the singing, playing, and conducting weren’t superb; but they certainly are. Listen to the way Burdick launches the allegro of the Kyrie--like a rocket--and to the perfect clarity of balance between voices and instruments. Burdick understands (as Hickox does not) the critical importance of keeping rhythms crisp, even in more contemplative sections such as the Sanctus. The REBEL Baroque Orchestra really plays well: trumpets and drums have the requisite panache and the strings offer excellent intonation and an appealingly sweet timbre that never turns scruffy or thin.

Highlights are many: the glorious concluding fugues of the Gloria, Credo, and Dona nobis pacem (happily Burdick isn’t afraid to make a few welcome ritards at the very ends, rather than simply letting the music run into a brick wall as so many others do); Liston’s brilliant singing of her difficult “Quoniam” aria in the Gloria; the gorgeous “Et incarnatus” section of the Credo; and the heartfelt account of the Benedictus.

The Hänssler release also included the Missa Brevis in F as a coupling, but the Missa Cellensis is still 65 minutes long as it is, and the short Mass now appears on another volume in this series. As suggested above, the recording perfectly balances the voices and instruments: you can hear everything. If you already own Kubelik’s recording, get this one too. Together they offer just about the total range of possibilities in this marvelous music. And if you have space for only a single version, then let this be the one.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

Haydn holds a major place in the repertoire of choral music, and among his many Masses the Cäcilienmesse is one of his most original scores. Its origin became confused by the composer when he listed another work with the title Missa Cellensis. This mass, more readily recognised today as the St. Cecilia Mass, started life in 1766, and with changes and additions was finished around 1776. It was to be different from the composer’s usual mass setting where just one movement was given to each part of the conventional liturgy. Here he subdivides them to create eighteen separate sections, the very extended Credo itself being cast in eight parts. Details of performances at the time are sketchy, but one would imagine such a complex setting would have been, in its final format, intended for a grand occasion in Vienna. That would be further substantiated by such moments as the imposing contribution of trumpets and timpani to the Gloria (track 9), the sheer weight of this moment surely intended for a church of magnitude. He may also have had in mind a more substantial choir than the twenty-two voices of New York’s Trinity Choir. But they do throw themselves into the score with enthusiasm, and when the music requires stamina they are not found wanting. The soloists would appear to come from the choir, the soprano, Ann Hoyt, being poignant in the Gloria’s Laudamas te section. The period orchestra perform with similar verve under the conductor, J. Owen Burdick.

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