Haydn: Lord Nelson Mass
Boston Baroque here celebrates its 40th anniversary of pioneering period performance in the US with a vigorous, well paced reading of Haydn’s fieriest Mass – composed in the summer of 1798 around the time that Nelson was decimating Napoleon’s fleet at the Battle of the Nile, and premiered as news of the victory reached the Esterhazy Palace at Eisenstadt. Recorded in a not-too-resonant acoustic, this new account opens with impact, even if the florid upper strings occasionally have to struggle against the implacable tirades of chorus, trumpets and drums. And the quartet of soloists led by agile soprano Mary Williams proves a well integrated team. A pity they are spotlit by the recording so they sound much closer to the listener than the chorus and orchestra.
There are also odd hints of this in the first movement of Symphony No. 102, in which the flute solos are suspiciously forward and bright. But the main qualification of Martin Pearlman’s lively reading is the absence of really quiet playing, so that the slow introduction lacks some of its luminous mystery and the wayward Romanticism of the slow movement sounds a tad prosaic.