HAYDN: Missa in Angustiis (“Lord Nelson Mass”); Symphony No. 102 in B-flat – Mary Wilson, sop./ Abigail Fischer, mezzo-sop./ Keith Jameson, tenor/ Kevin Deas, bass-bar./ Boston Baroque/ Martin Pearlman – Linn multichannel SACD CKD 426, 62:03 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Haydn’s Anxiety Mass was written at a very difficult time in Viennese history when Napoleon was at the gates and was then threatening Egypt. Admiral Horatio Nelson put the end to all that after defeating the beleaguered Emperor at Aboukir, and no doubt the trumpets and timpani of this work brought to the populace the association with Nelson’s victory, hence the nickname “Nelson Mass”. Prince Esterhazy, Haydn’s employer, had effectively removed any hope of using woodwind players and horns in an effort to cut costs, so Haydn had to be unusually creative in crafting this most Bachian (in terms of orchestration) of works to convey war and the subtleties of impending peace. The work is powerful, almost overwhelmingly so, and since Haydn was sick and confined to bed at the time he wrote it as the fulfillment of a commission for Esterhazy’s wife, the piece was completed in one month, hot on the heels of The Creation which had been completed that same year (1798).
Pearlman is a conductor that has frustrated me in the past, starting with some of his earliest recordings for Telarc, especially a Mozart Requiem that I thought one of the worst run-throughs I had ever heard. But over time he has developed some new sensibilities, and I am most pleased with the results of this Nelson. Its nearest competitor, John Eliot Gardiner (recorded in 1997), is also very good, full of the same punch an deliberateness of effect, lacks the fine surround sound that Linn has given Pearlman, another outcast from the Telarc buy-out. And the soloists are more on top of their game as well in this new issue, with the choir and orchestra of the Boston Baroque every bit the equal of the finest ensembles on record. There are some older ones that I would not trade in, like the Willcocks series on Decca, but those belong to another world, and the newest sense of interpretative facility springs to life in this outstanding issue. . It should be noted that Pearlman recorded this once before, to generally less than enthusiastic reviews earlier in his career. This one is not like that one.
The desirability of this recording is only compounded by the terrific reading of the 102nd Symphony, originally the designee of the appellation that became “Miracle” because of the chandelier crash at one of Haydn’s London concerts. It actually happened when No. 102 was being performed, but by some accident of history it was associated—mistakenly—with the performance of the Symphony No. 96 instead. It is easily Haydn’s brashest symphony, even though it is hardly his most popular, though perhaps the lack of a “title” has contributed to this, so common among the later 12 “London” Symphonies. But it is fully the equal of any of the other twelve miracles of composition that make up Haydn’s last efforts in the genre, and Pearlman and forces give it a splendid go, full of pizzazz and captivating lyricism and phrasing.
This is a wonderful release, hopefully presaging some more to come, and can’t be recommended highly enough.