Haydn: Mass in F, Hob. XXII:1; Mass in C, Hob. XXII:5 (St Cecilia Mass)

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LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Mass in F, Hob. XXII:1; Mass in C, Hob. XXII:5 (St Cecilia Mass)
PERFORMER: Choir of Trinity Church, Wall Street, REBEL Baroque Orchestra/Owen Burdick
Haydn’s early F major Mass, a work of guileless Rococo charm, forms an entrée to the disc’s main agenda: the imposing, heterogeneous Missa Cellensis of 1766, in which the newly promoted Esterházy Kapellmeister evidently set out to display his mastery over the widest range of styles. This new recording catches the work’s celebratory C major splendour well enough. But it falls down when compared with the versions from Simon Preston (L’Oiseau-Lyre) and, especially, Richard Hickox. The biggest problem is the vast, swimmy acoustic of Trinity Church on Wall Street, which seriously blurs the choral image. Time and again in the fugues (and this Mass is something of a fugal orgy), entries have happened before you’re aware of them, though it’s not entirely the fault of the acoustic that the sopranos consistently outgun the lower voices. Like the (period) orchestra, the choir is evidently a skilled group. But director Owen Burdick too often seems content with a certain generalised energy. Compare Hickox, who shapes the music that much more expressively and builds each of the fugues surely to a powerful climax: under Hickox the ‘Et vitam venturi’ blazes where this new performance – at a slower speed and a virtually unvaried dynamic level – merely chugs. Nor are the soloists on the new disc, all drawn from the choir, a match for Hickox’s: the two sopranos do well in their arias in the Gloria, but the tenor struggles to keep afloat in his taxing ‘Et incarnatus est’ solo. If you do decide to investigate this disc, don’t believe every word in the hyperbolic, error-strewn booklet note. Richard Wigmore