Haydn: Harmoniemesse; Heiligmesse*

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Harmoniemesse; Heiligmesse*
PERFORMER: Simona Saturová, *Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Daniela Sindram, *Ingeborg Danz (mezzo-soprano), James Taylor, *Lothar Odinius (tenor), Michael Nagy (bass); Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; Stuttgart Radio SO, SWR; *Oregon Bach Festival Chorus & Orchestra/Helmuth Rilling
CATALOGUE NO: 98.538

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This disc completes Helmuth Rilling’s journey through Haydn’s six late, great Masses with the first and last of the sequence, the Heilig Mass (1796), named after a German hymn that the composer quotes at the beginning of the Sanctus, the Harmoniemesse (1802) after the wind ensemble – in German, ‘Harmonie’ – he deploys colourfully throughout the score.

As before, the two works are sung and played by different ensembles in different countries. Yet they are evenly matched, with no substantial difference between their approaches or capabilities, or in the acoustic qualities of the recordings, both of which lack an ideal depth and clarity to present such sonically rich and texturally complex material.

But the performances are strong, with Rilling’s own measured pacing articulating the sizable structures of individual movements capably and pointing up many of the clever and effective touches Haydn includes to enliven familiar texts. Rilling displays a moderate measure of vitality and he never makes the mistake of overdramatising. Soloists in each instance form accurate and well-balanced quartets and the choirs are solid and neat. Haydn’s sincere and unquestioning faith – he could say that when he thought of God, it made him feel cheerful – shines through.

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This is an unusual coupling, and while there are fine complete sets of Haydn’s Masses available (such as Hickox’s) for the Heiligmesse I would prefer Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s version. But despite the limited sound Rilling’s performances are very presentable. George Hall