Haydn, Schubert

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COMPOSERS: Haydn,Schubert
LABELS: Teldec Das Alte Werk
WORKS: Schöpfungsmesse, Hob. XXII:13
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Elisabeth von Magnus (contralto), Herbert Lippert (tenor), Gerald Finley (bass); Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-26094-2
Haydn’s quotation, in the Gloria, of the Adam and Eve duet from The Creation seems to have given the Schöpfungsmesse (Creation Mass) a misleading reputation for frivolity. In fact, this least favoured of Haydn’s late Masses is one of the most inspired of all: a life-enhancing affirmation of the composer’s faith expressed with all the drama, orchestral mastery and harmonic boldness of his ripest symphonic style.

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Abetted by his expert choir and orchestra, Harnoncourt gives a colourful, powerfully rhetorical reading, full of his trademark stabbing accents, fluctuations of tempo and extreme dynamic contrasts. Moment-by-moment this is an often thrilling performance, though the frequent unmarked gear changes, especially in the opening sections of the Gloria and Credo, can impede the music’s natural impetus. Occasionally a tempo seems over-hectic – the ‘Dona nobis’, shorn of Haydn’s ‘moderato’ qualification, here becomes an almost frantic demand for peace. At times, too, Harnoncourt’s ultra-detailed articulation makes for mannered or edgy results, as in the ‘In gloria’ fugue and the Benedictus, where, typically, he seems determined to undermine any suggestion of pastoral serenity.

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On a rival Chandos disc Richard Hickox, if less forceful and intense than Harnoncourt, shapes the music more naturally and allows more breathing space in, say, the Benedictus. Harnoncourt does, though, score over Hickox by adding, instead of a perfunctory early Haydn Mass, two relatively unfamiliar sacred pieces by Schubert: the ceremonial, Haydnesque Magnificat setting of 1815 (its tender central ‘Deposuit’ beautifully sung by Christiane Oelze), and the solemn ‘Intende voci’ from Schubert’s last year, in which Herbert Lippert makes a graceful, mellifluous tenor soloist. Richard Wigmore