WORKS: Nelson Mass; Little Organ Mass
PERFORMER: Tamara Matthews (soprano), Zoila Muñoz (alto), Benjamin Butterfield (tenor), David Arnold (bass); American Bach Soloists Choir, American Classical Soloists, Pacific Mozart Ensemble/Jeffrey Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7407-2
The Harmoniemesse is the last major work that Haydn completed. It is also one of his loveliest pieces, making full use of the wind band (or ‘Harmonie’ in German) that gave it its sobriquet. With his employer Prince Nicholas II rebuilding the Esterházy orchestra, Haydn was able to add flute, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns to the usual complement of strings, organ, trumpets and timpani. The result is a work that consistently beguiles and surprises through its dramatic contrasts of dynamic, texture and mood.
Richard Hickox elicits a rich sound palette from his performers and conveys the score’s vitality with a superbly expressive touch: listen, for example, to the Agnus Dei, where the singers’ tender rapprochement is halted by a blazing fanfare and the chorus’s imploring ‘Dona nobis pacem’. Hickox’s regular – and immaculate – Haydn soloists are joined by Nancy Argenta, who is also featured on the brief, poignant Salve regina of 1756. She sings its elaborate, Italianate lines with an intensity that is deeply moving. All in all, this is the finest disc of Haydn’s sacred music I have heard – an enthralling release.
The Nelson Mass of 1798 preceded the Harmoniemesse by four years and its ominous Kyrie and Benedictus reflect a Europe still gripped by the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars. Jeffrey Thomas’s version is a little too stern, lacking the rhythmic spring and vivid brilliance of Trevor Pinnock’s 1987 Archiv recording. Pinnock has the stronger soloists, too: Tamara Matthews sounds rather bland next to Felicity Lott’s authoritative soprano and David Arnold can’t match David Wilson-Johnson’s bass gravitas. Thomas’s Little Organ Mass is also less than felicitous, with the Benedictus in particular sounding very laboured.