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Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, March 2011

These performances, recorded in 2002 and 2006, are technically excellent, as perfect in detail as you would ever want to hear. Tempos are quick, but never sound rushed, and the musical texture is always open and clear. The choir sings with almost no vibrato, and in fact the women could be mistaken for boys. The soloists, all drawn from the choir, it seems, are uniformly good; and the orchestra, including organist Dongsok Shin, is excellent as well.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Brian Wilson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

There’s really no need to beat about the bush with a lengthy review: this is every bit as good and as thoroughly recommendable as Volume 3 of this series to which I recently gave a strong recommendation (8.572123: Bargain of the Month). As on that earlier CD, the programme combines one of Haydn’s earliest masses – the Great Organ Solo Mass, which was among his first sacred compositions for the Esterházy court – with one of the better-known later masterpieces, the Heiligmesse of 1796, composed after his return to Esterháza.

The Heiligmesse is in no way an inferior work to the ‘Nelson’ Mass on the earlier volume – as with so many of Haydn’s works it’s really only the eye-catching nickname, which in any case really is a misnomer, that has made that mass more popular than the other late masses.

As its name implies, the Great Organ Solo Mass contains a prominent part for the instrument. It’s by no means a mere adjunct to the main menu; it’s very well worth hearing in its own right, combining lyrical and thoughtful elements. As before, all concerned give of their best, including on this occasion Dongsok Shin, who has kindly supplied MusicWeb International with information about the organ employed in this and other recordings in the series, not the digital organ at Trinity Church which replaced the instrument damaged in the 9/11 attack, but a small pipe instrument imported for the purpose – please see footnote at the end of John Sheppard’s review of the complete set.

In that review John Sheppard made the complete eight-disc set from which these individual volumes are being reissued his Recording of the Month (8.508009). He singled out Ann Hoyt, the soprano in both the masses on Volume 5, for special praise and I can only echo his comment that she is the equal of the much better-known soloists on the versions by Hickox, Guest and Bernstein. She is, however only the first among equals: the other soloists also acquit themselves extremely well, as do the choir and orchestra, and the direction is thoroughly idiomatic. I didn’t even object to J Owen Burdick’s habit of slowing at the end of each section, which was John Sheppard’s minor criticism.

In fact, my only reservation about the two volumes which have come my way is that the purchase of either will probably make you wish that you had gone for the complete set, available for an incredibly inexpensive £28.50 or so in the UK.

William Hedley also reviewed the complete set. Though he recommended it, he had more reservations than JS or myself, believing that energy and drive had been achieved at the expense of the essential Haydn elements of charm, grace and smiling benevolence. I understand where he’s coming from – both performances bounce along a little relentlessly at times – but the movements which he selects in the Heiligmesse, the openings of the Gloria, Credo and Sanctus are surely exactly the right places for the greatest stress on jubilation. The more subdued sections, such as the et incarnatus est of the Credo, are subject to a more meditative approach. Indeed, WH himself admits that the ensuing Crucifixus is very successful – it’s one of the many wonders of this work and of the performance.

The recording is good, offering a convincing soundstage with just the right degree of reverberation, and the notes are brief but to the point. The absence of texts and translations is regrettable, especially when they would have taken so little space to include, but their availability online partly mitigates that, as does the link to them provided for subscribers to the Naxos Music Library. The Library also offers the booklet and insert to those who prefer to listen before buying. I can practically guarantee that anyone who streams this music first from there will want to purchase either the single CD or the complete set.

I shall not be abandoning other performances of these works, especially those in the Chandos complete series of Haydn Masses with Hickox at the helm (Grosse Orgelsolomesse with Missa Cellensis on CHAN0674; Heiligmesse with Nikolaimesse on CHAN0645) but I shall certainly return to these Naxos performances too.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, November 2010

Naxos has already released the complete set of Haydn masses by these forces, and is now giving the rest to us piecemeal. There have been quite a wide variety of views about these recordings in the critical world, some people feeling that these are just not up to snuff when compared to the also fairly-recent issues by Gardiner (Philips) and Hickox (Chandos); I have heard little of the latter but can tell you that his choir is bigger and fuller than the others, and although period instruments are at play they still seem closer to traditional recordings than not. Gardiner is very sprightly and his choir excellent, but the sound is much more compressed than what we have on this Naxos release.

And I will admit that there is something a little rustic about these readings, but if we can’t accept “rustic” in Haydn, well, when can we? Phrases are not always tapered properly, and the string sound, while not a throwback to the horrid period years of yore, are burnished and buzzy—in a good way. But the singing, though the sopranos essentially adopt a boyish white tone (in fact at first I thought that maybe they were boys) are so enthusiastic and energetic that they carry you right along for the ride, as if it was a first discovery. So any mild problems with ensemble unity or perfectly balanced choral sound (and they are very mild problems) are more than made up for by the infectious and come-along-for-the-ride spirit behind these works.

On this disc we get one of the earliest masses Haydn ever set, along with one of the final “great six”. The Great Organ Solo Mass is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the organ part was probably played by the composer during his time with Prince Esterhazy after he had assumed responsibility for church music as well as the other musical activities required. The Heiligmesse was composed some 30 years later, when Haydn returned to the service of the new Prince, Esterhazy II, and had settled in the Prince’s preferred location of Vienna, he finished one mass per year in celebration of the name day of Princess Marie Hermenegild which resulted in the famous six. This one—the first of the six—is dedicated to the memory of St. Bernard Offida, a seventeenth Capuchin monk who had been canonized recently. Both pieces have a spiritual joy and catchy tone about them, especially the Heiligmesse, one of the most uplifting choral works the composer even penned.

These Naxos releases might not be the last word in Haydn masses—and I am not sure there is one—but they are very satisfying indeed, and easily hold their own with some more famous competitors. If you are new to these, don’t hesitate, and if not, adding them to your collection is a definite bonus, if not mandatory.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2010

The Fifth in the series of Haydn’s Masses performed by the New York choir link works from both ends of his church career. The Great Organ Mass’, a name that seems to have been appended after the first performance, refers to the greater-than-usual participation of the organ. It was not composed for a specific purpose, which was unusual in itself, but was in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) and dates from the later part of the 1760s. Purely formal in its structure and requiring the usual four soloists, it has a particularly sprightly Et resurrexit and an imposing final Dona nobis pacem. The ‘Heiligmesse’dates from almost thirty years later, and whereas the ‘Orgelsolomesse’ was a score of supplication, this later work is one of celebration and may have marked the composer’s return to the Esterházy court to serve the new prince, Nicolaus II. It is also more demanding on the chorus. The Trinity Choir comes from the church of that name in Lower Manhattan, New York, and would appear to be quite small of around twenty singers. The booklet does not make clear whether the soloists come from their number, but they all sing with obvious enthusiasm. They are joined by a period instrument ensemble of a welcome pungent quality when heard alone. Owen Burdick uses uncomplicated tempos, while the engineers offer an well reasoned balance between singers and instruments.

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