Haydn: Masses in C, Hob. XXII:5 (Missa Cellensis) & D minor, Hob. XXII:2 (Missa sunt bona mixta malis)

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Masses in C, Hob. XXII:5 (Missa Cellensis) & D minor, Hob. XXII:2 (Missa sunt bona mixta malis)
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo-soprano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (bass); Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0667
Begun in 1766, the Missa Cellensis is Haydn’s longest and most heterogeneous Mass. Like Bach and Mozart in their B minor and C minor Masses, Haydn here seems set on flaunting his mastery over a wide gamut of styles. The work is pervaded by the brilliant C major sonority of trumpets and timpani, served up with the young Haydn’s typical confidence and verve. Some of the most memorable movements, though, are ones that set off the prevailing red and gold splendour: the austerely beautiful ‘Gratias’, for instance, or the C minor Benedictus.

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Richard Hickox is a compelling advocate of this repertoire, choosing his tempos shrewdly (only the ‘Gratias’ is arguably too jaunty) and catching vividly both the music’s joyous, celebratory energy and moments of drama and introspection. His expert mixed choir and period orchestra are on top form, and the balance is well-judged, though the trumpets and timpani are sometimes over-discreet (and the first trumpet’s potentially spectacular ascent to a top C at the end of the Credo eluded me).

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Simon Preston’s excellent L’Oiseau-Lyre performance, dominated by the bright, gutsy sound of the Christ Church boy sopranos and solo quartet of early music specialists led by Judith Nelson, almost certainly comes closer to what Haydn himself would have heard. But forced to choose, I’d plump for Hickox’s more polished, sophisticated reading, for its shapely, strongly characterised choral work and the contribution of his well-matched soloists, especially Susan Gritton, who sings with her trademark tonal allure and intensity of line. Chandos also throws in the fragmentary Missa sunt bona mixta malis of 1768, which caused a stir when the manuscript was unearthed in an Irish farmhouse in 1983. As an exercise in the Palestrina a cappella style, filtered through an 18th-century prism, the work certainly has curiosity value, but it’s not surprising that Haydn lost interest midway through the Gloria. Richard Wigmore