Hummel: Mass in D, Op. 111 (Vol 1); Mass in B flat, Op. 77 (Vol 1); Alma virgo

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LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Mass in D, Op. 111 (Vol 1); Mass in B flat, Op. 77 (Vol 1); Alma virgo
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano); Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
When in 1804 Haydn became too old and frail to continue composing the annual Mass for the name-day of Princess Esterházy, his duties were taken over by Hummel. The younger man had had virtually no experience as a composer of orchestral or choral music, and reliable anecdote has it that his early efforts at writing Masses were so heavily corrected by Haydn that little of his own work remained. If so, he must have learned quickly, because the D major Mass recorded here, written for the celebrations of 1808, is a remarkably fine piece. It actually begins in the minor, and in an atmosphere redolent of the Kyrie from Mozart’s Requiem. No less intensely tragic is the B minor ‘Qui tollis’, with its unison choral theme accompanied by pulsating strings. Hummel’s response to the text is, in fact, as striking as his ear for orchestral colour, and for the Benedictus he very effectively introduces the celestial sound of a flute for the only time in the work.


The B flat Mass of 1810 is slightly less ambitious, though the dramatic trumpet fanfares that cut into the music with mounting excitement for the ‘Et resurrexit’ provide a striking theatrical coup. Altogether, these are real discoveries, and quite a career-change for a composer who had earlier written little other than salon pieces for piano. Richard Hickox and his forces do the music proud, and Susan Gritton takes the demanding solo soprano writing of the short Mozartian Alma virgo in her stride. Misha Donat