WORKS: Mass in D minor (Nelson)
PERFORMER: Haydn Society Chorus, Orchestra of the Golden Age/Denis McCaldin
CATALOGUE NO: CDE 84393
At the time of Haydn’s ‘Pauken’ and Nelson Masses, Napoleon’s rampaging armies had thrown Europe into turmoil. This sense of foreboding finds expression in the music, strikingly so in the Nelson Mass’s ominous Kyrie and a Benedictus rent by stabbing trumpet fanfares, most famously in the ‘Pauken’ Mass’s Agnus Dei, where the sinister timpani should, said Haydn, evoke the enemy approaching in the distance.
Richard Hickox’s recording of the Harmoniemesse was my 1998 disc of the year and this new ‘Pauken’ Mass maintains that level of excellence. His control of dynamics, choice of tempo and shaping of the drama are all very persuasive, and the performances are again brilliantly expressive. Though there have been commendable versions in recent years from Harnoncourt and Weil, Hickox’s account is supremely accomplished – a new benchmark.
Trevor Pinnock’s Nelson Mass has long been one of the most thrilling Haydn performances on disc. Nikolaus Harnoncourt runs him close for power and bite but a tendency to overdeliberate at times means he can’t match Pinnock’s irresistible momentum. Denis McCaldin uses a new edition of the Nelson Mass that reinstates in full Johann Fuchs’s reorchestration of the organ part for woodwinds. The result is to soften the music’s impact, a diminishment compounded here by the orchestra’s rather muted presence.
The additional pieces offered on all three discs are minor works except for the imperious 1800 Te Deum, to which both Harnoncourt and Hickox do splendid justice. Graham Lock