WORKS: Mass in D minor, Hob XXII:11 (Nelson); Mass in B flat, Hob. XXII:12 (Theresienmesse); Te Deum, Hob. XXIIIc:2
PERFORMER: Donna Brown (soprano), Sally Bruce-Payne (mezzo-soprano), Peter Butterfield (tenor), Gerald Finley (bass); Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 470 286-2
These sharply contrasted Masses – the Nelson stark and aggressive, the Theresienmesse more intimate and lyrical – have been splendidly served in recordings by Pinnock (DG Archiv) and Hickox (Chandos). Differences are often minimal, though Pinnock tends to be a shade broader, Hickox more urgent and athletic. Gardiner, likewise with crack forces, favours eager tempi à la Hickox, and vividly conveys the music’s physical and spiritual energy. Predictably, though, his performances explore greater extremes. Phrasing in lyrical passages is more sculpted, rhythms tend to be hungrier, dynamic contrasts that much more pronounced. Just when you think the blaze has reached maximum intensity, Gardiner and his singers turn up the heat another notch.
Typically, too, the sound-world of the Nelson is even more mordant and acerbic than in the rival performances. Gardiner’s soloists are as minutely responsive as his choir and orchestra, with the pure-toned Donna Brown ethereal in the two ‘Et incarnatus est’ settings and Gerald Finley bringing gravitas and a Classical nobility of line to the ‘Qui tollis’ of the Nelson. Here and there you might find these performances a mite hard-driven. But there’s no denying their colour, panache and exceptional dramatic flair, whether in the Masses or the rugged splendour of the Te Deum. Final choice may well be influenced by their couplings, though as a ‘best buy’ the Gardiner – two discs for the price of one – has the edge. Richard Wigmore