Haydn Nelson Mass

Author: 
hfinch
HAYDN Nelson Mass – Pinnock

Haydn Nelson Mass

  • Mass No. 11, 'Missa in angustiis', 'Nelsonmesse'
  • Mass No. 11, 'Missa in angustiis', 'Nelsonmesse'
  • Te Deum for the Empress Marie Therese

Of all the Haydn worthy of recording on original instruments, the so-called Nelson Mass surely puts forward one of the highest claims. The composer himself called it the Missa in Angustiis—the Mass in straitened times, or times of fear—and not until the particular dry rattle of the smaller, contemporary timpani with their hard sticks, and the pungency of these long trumpets has permeated the consciousness, can the true nervous sensibility of its unique writing perhaps be fully experienced.
Both these recordings provide stimulating perspectives on the work: Pinnock's, by far the more successful, actually supersedes both Argo versions from Hickox and Willcocks in insight, performing skill and recording quality. Presentation alone is superior: Archiv offer the fullest notes and text include the Te Deum as well on the single disc, and take the trouble to sing in German, not Italian Latin.
It is, without doubt, the distinctive sonority which sets this performance apart: the trumpets and drums bite into the dissonance of the Kyrie and the Benedictus; there is finely pointed, near vibrato-less string playing, mordant and urgent; there is the heavy groan of the bass strings on the repeated notes of the ''Qui tollis''. But it is also Pinnock's tempos which bring the score into sharp focus. The Allegro-Adagio-Allegro triptych of the Gloria is set out in bold, nervously contrasted speeds, with scampering phrases bent towards the uneasy pace of each ''Dona nobis''. The Credo, with its bouncing rhythms, moves from a sense of affirmation as jubilant of that of The Creation to a supple, chant-like declamation of its litani of inflexion minutely observed.
In this, as elsewhere, it helps not a little to have a choir of young professionals. The English Concert Choir may be a little chill compared with the full-blooded singing of Hickox's London Symphony Chorus, but the balance with the instrumental forces is meticulous, the matching of inflexion minutely observed.
Pinnock's soloists have been chosen to blend and highlight the tone values of his distinctive palette. They are no specialist early music-makers but each one has a highly intelligent grasp of phrasing and pacing: David Wilson-Johnson's ''Qui tollissi combines both true bass weight and the momentum of long-breathed, elegantly tapering phrases, while Felicity Lott hones away every trace of superfluous vibrato for her lithe, plangent Benedictus. No other team of soloists is so well-matched; though the considerable and abiding attraction of the otherwise conservative, even precious, Willcocks performance is the presence of Sylvia Stahlman's soprano and Tom Krause's bass.
The second new version, that by Pearlman and the Boston-based Banchetto Musicale, is disappointing. The forces (not listed or described) sound smaller even than Pinnock's too small for the texture and scale of the work, as they provide insufficient ballast for lively, eager, but essentially unstylish choral singing. There is a serious lack of balance here, too: the choir's tenors dominate and the soloists sound as if they are singing from within a glass jar. Individual performances are high on zeal and low on discipline, with a sizeable vibrato in James Maddalena's baritone providing yet another distraction in a well-meaning but ill-at-ease performance.'

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