Vanhal: Missa pastoralis in G; Missa solemnis in C minor

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WORKS: Missa pastoralis in G; Missa solemnis in C minor
PERFORMER: Mary Enid Haines (soprano), Nina Scott Stoddart (mezzo-soprano), Colin Ainsworth (tenor), Steven Pitkanen (baritone), James Tibbles (organ); TOWER Voices New Zealand, Aradia Ensemble/Uwe Grodd
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555080
During the 1770s the Bohemian Johann Baptist Vanhal was Vienna’s most successful freelance composer, with a reputation to rival Haydn’s. But while a number of his symphonies – several of them in agitated, Sturm und Drang vein – have been revived on disc and in the concert hall, his 60-odd Masses have remained virtually uncharted territory. The two works resuscitated here are firmly in the late 18th-century Austrian tradition familiar from the contemporary Salzburg Masses of Mozart. Their prevailing spirit is one of innocent cheerfulness, with moments of solemnity provided by the grave, minor-keyed settings of the ‘Crucifixus’ and ‘Agnus Dei’. Both Masses can lapse into rococo autopilot, though in parts of the G major drone basses and folksy yodelling melodies create a charming rustic flavour. The C minor Missa solemnis is made of sterner stuff, with more purposeful development, a wider expressive range (including a tenderly lyrical Benedictus duet for soprano and alto) and more formal counterpoint, notably in the jubilant final fugue. Under Uwe Grodd the combined Canadian/New Zealand forces give a very fair idea of this attractive if hardly revelatory music. Neither the choir – less than ideally incisive – nor the soloists are in the top bracket. But tempi are aptly chosen, rhythms lively and phrasing stylish and sensitive. If you’re attuned to Austrian sacred music of the period and fancy a change from Mozart’s and Haydn’s early Masses, this disc could well be the answer. Richard Wigmore