Haydn: Nelson Mass

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Joseph Haydn
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn: Nelson Mass
WORKS: Nelson Mass; Insanae et vanae curae
PERFORMER: Jonty Ward (treble), Hugh Cutting (alto), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Tom Edwards (bass); New College Choir Oxford; New Century Baroque/Edward Higginbottom


Haydn’s magnificent Missa in Angustiis of 1798 – the so-called ‘Nelson Mass’, composed at the height of the Napoleonic Wars – has given rise to some dramatic recordings, with its stark scoring for trumpets, drums, organ and strings, and its menacing fanfares. This latest account, by the forces of New College, Oxford, is less punchy, more liturgical than some, but scarcely less intent in purpose.

Instead of the usual operatic soloist in the florid solo soprano passages, we have a remarkably secure and expressive boy treble in Jonty Ward, while the Choir of New College sing with all their usual focus. Uniquely, Higginbottom interposes Haydn’s stirring motet Insane et vanae curae (‘Deluded and vain cares assault the mind’) as an Offertory between the Credo and Sanctus – where its D minor-major tonality, and alternations of storminess and calm, fit in most effectively with the ambiguous mood-swings of the Mass as a whole.

The period strings of New Century Baroque number only around 20, and the one drawback to the resonant church recording is that the Haydn’s hyperactive violin lines occasionally get covered by the trumpets and choir. The CD is also rather short-measure. Recommendable, all the same.


Bayan Northcott