LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Mass in D minor (Nelson); Mass in F; Ave regina in A
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo-soprano), Mark Padmore (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone); Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0640
From the dark menace of the Kyrie to the ecstatic release of the ‘Dona nobis pacem’, the Nelson is the most dramatic of Haydn’s late masses. It also has the most distinctive scoring. With no winds or horns available, Haydn wrote the work for three trumpets, timpani, obbligato organ and strings, to famously striking effect in the Benedictus: martial fanfares, evoking the terrors of war, threaten to overwhelm the chorus before the latter finally triumph with a thankful ‘Osanna’.
Richard Hickox’s recordings of other Haydn masses are among the finest versions available. Led by Susan Gritton in the bravura soprano role, soloists, chorus and orchestra turn in powerful performances on the Nelson too, though I did think the sound balance slightly awry on occasion, with the chorus and, particularly, the orchestra a tad too far back to make the requisite impact. Trevor Pinnock’s magnificent benchmark recording is one of those rare instances where everything sounds exactly right – the playing taut, the singing sharply focused, the pacing absolutely compelling. Hickox’s performers match this excellence intermittently, but they don’t sustain it with quite the unerring constancy of the Pinnock team.
I was also a little disappointed by the Ave Regina, an early piece in Haydn’s youthful, Italianate style. Hickox and Gritton eschew the flowing exuberance so beautifully portrayed by Bruno Weil and Marie-Claude Vallin (Sony), offering instead a low-key, sombre performance that at times sounds laboured. The remaining mass, Haydn’s first, is a pleasing minor work performed with engaging gusto. Graham Lock