Michael Haydn, Mozart

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Michael Haydn,Mozart
WORKS: Mass & Vespers for the Feast of Holy Innocents
PERFORMER: American Boychoir, New York Collegium/James Litton
While Vienna was being assailed by the sounds of Fidelio and the Eroica, Rococo decorum was still alive and tripping in Salzburg. Michael Haydn’s St Leopold Mass for the Feast of Innocents was composed in 1805, but could easily have been written 30 or 40 years earlier. Its style is essentially that of Mozart’s teenage Masses: compact, single-section movements that allow for minimal musical development, simple, homophonic choral writing (here for boys’ voices only), busy violin figuration and an air of cherubic cheerfulness that is only fleetingly disturbed in the ‘Crucifixus’ and ‘Agnus Dei’. All very agreeable, though before the end you could be in danger of overdosing on amiable 3/4 rhythms. The Mass is interleaved here with plainchant antiphons and followed by Haydn’s Vespers for Holy Innocents of 1793 – a reconstruction of the liturgical sequence that would have been sung in Salzburg Cathedral. The Vespers are essentially in the same unruffled idiom, though some welcome contrast comes courtesy of a solemn, minor-keyed setting of ‘De profundis’, and by the rare touches of imitative writing in ‘Memento Domine David’. Despite some over-leisurely tempi, James Litton and his forces make a persuasive case for this innocuously tuneful music. The choir – America’s answer to the Vienna Boys Choir – sings with an appealing soft-grained tone, less bright and gutsy than its European counterparts, while the brief solos are negotiated with a touching youthful vulnerability. Richard Wigmore