COMPOSERS: Michael Haydn
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn: Requiem & Mass
WORKS: Requiem pro defuncto; Archiepiscopo Sigismundo; Missa in honorem Sanctae Ursulae
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson, Hilary Sumemrs, James Gilchrist, Peter Harvey, Choir of the King’s Consort, Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67510
For his contemporaries, Michael Haydn was at least the equal of his brother Joseph as a composer of church music. The Requiem he wrote in 1771 for the Salzburg archbishop, Sigismund Schrattenbach, helps to explain why. Mozart may even have remembered the sombre, processional opening when he came to write his own Requiem two decades later.
Haydn works on a more compact scale than Mozart, but it’s a powerful, often moving work, harmonically imaginative and coloured by the darkly majestic sonority of brass, timpani and strings. Listening ‘blind’ to the Missa in honorem Sanctae Ursulae Haydn wrote in 1793 for a Bavarian convent, you might easily mistake it for one of Mozart’s Salzburg Masses from two decades earlier.
There is an imposing fugue to end the Gloria, and a deeply felt ‘Et incarnatus’-‘Crucifixus’. But the overriding impression is of unsullied optimism, with pastoral innocence alternating with the bustling Rococo cheerfulness so typical of Austrian church music.
A good version of the Requiem appeared last year on MDG (reviewed October 2004). But this new one has the edge, in the sharpness of the orchestral contribution (the crucial brass register more pungently), the clarity and attack of the choir, and in the quality of the solo quartet, led by the vernal soprano of Carolyn Sampson.
In both works Robert King chooses convincing tempos, keeps the rhythms vital and, in the Mass, never tries to drive Haydn’s amiable, graceful music too hard. If you love Mozart’s and Joseph Haydn’s church music, you can hardly fail to enjoy this. Richard Wigmore