Haydn: Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida (Heiligmesse); Missa in angustiis (Nelsonmesse); Missa brevis Sanctis Joannis de Deo,

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: EMI Double Forte
WORKS: Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida (Heiligmesse); Missa in angustiis (Nelsonmesse); Missa brevis Sanctis Joannis de Deo,
PERFORMER: Soloists; Leipzig Radio Choir, Dresden Staatskapelle/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: CZS 5 68592 2 Reissue (1987-90)
There can be few more complete examples of a corpus of music fulfilling its practical function with the greatest sum of pleasure and art than the Haydn Masses. True, some Puritan souls for whom seriousness is incompatible with being seriously joyful have found them a problem. Yet even non-believers can accept their liturgical structures as vessels for exquisite music, like opera enjoyed for its beautiful tunes, divorced from plot and staging.

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Yet with or without gravitas, the charms of recent Haydn releases by Hickox and Harnoncourt would be hard to ignore. Coupled with the first of Haydn’s two Te Deum settings, and the cantata Qual dubbio ormai, Harnoncourt offers with Concentus Musicus Wien and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir a gripping version of the composer’s last Mass. Its generous woodwind textures receive warm, assured delivery and the supple, period-instrument sound has an authentic colour that gives it the edge on the otherwise estimable readings by Hickox of the Heiligmesse and delightful Nikolaimesse, complete with Lorna Anderson’s soaring soprano solos. By contrast, the Little Organ Mass, though problematical liturgically, receives a confident reading in EMI’s reissue of Marriner’s Haydn recordings, though a comparison of his Heiligmesse with Hickox’s lithe, buoyant account highlights the advance that even a decade’s difference in early music performance can bring. Whether in the urgent Kyries of the Nelson Mass, or the searching Crucifixus of the Theresienmesse, Marriner is never less than stately, a worthy exponent of the late Masses, even if Harnoncourt bears the palm. Nicholas Williams