HAYDN: Missa in honorem BVM, “Great Organ Mass”; Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida, “Heiligmesse” – Ann Hoyt, soprano/ Luthien Brackett, alto/ Hai-Ting Chinn, alto/ Kirsten Sollek, alto/Stephen Sands, tenor/ Daniel Mutlu, tenor/ Richard Lippold, bass/ Andrew Nolen, bass/ Dongsok Shin, organ/Trinity Choir/ Rebel Baroque Orchestra/ J. Owen Burdick
Naxos 8.572125, 68:27 ****:
Naxos has already released the complete set of Haydn masses by these forces, and is now giving the rest to us piecemeal. There have been quite a wide variety of views about these recordings in the critical world, some people feeling that these are just not up to snuff when compared to the also fairly-recent issues by Gardiner (Philips) and Hickox (Chandos); I have heard little of the latter but can tell you that his choir is bigger and fuller than the others, and although period instruments are at play they still seem closer to traditional recordings than not. Gardiner is very sprightly and his choir excellent, but the sound is much more compressed than what we have on this Naxos release. Both the Chandos and Philips are worth owning.
And I will admit that there is something a little rustic about these readings, but if we can’t accept “rustic” in Haydn, well, when can we? Phrases are not always tapered properly, and the string sound, while not a throwback to the horrid period years of yore, are burnished and buzzy—in a good way. But the singing, though the sopranos essentially adopt a boyish white tone (in fact at first I thought that maybe they were boys) are so enthusiastic and energetic that they carry you right along for the ride, as if it was a first discovery. So any mild problems with ensemble unity or perfectly balanced choral sound (and they are very mild problems) are more than made up for by the infectious and come-along-for-the-ride spirit behind these works.
On this disc we get one of the earliest masses Haydn ever set, along with one of the final “great six”. The Great Organ Solo Mass is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the organ part was probably played by the composer during his time with Prince Esterhazy after he had assumed responsibility for church music as well as the other musical activities required. The Heiligmesse was composed some 30 years later, when Haydn returned to the service of the new Prince, Esterhazy II, and had settled in the Prince’s preferred location of Vienna, he finished one mass per year in celebration of the name day of Princess Marie Hermenegild which resulted in the famous six. This one—the first of the six—is dedicated to the memory of St. Bernard Offida, a seventeenth Capuchin monk who had been canonized recently. Both pieces have a spiritual joy and catchy tone about them, especially the Heiligmesse, one of the most uplifting choral works the composer even penned.
These Naxos releases might not be the last word in Haydn masses—and I am not sure there is one—but they are very satisfying indeed, and easily hold their own with some more famous competitors. If you are new to these, don’t hesitate, and if not, adding them to your collection is a definite bonus, if not mandatory.
— Steven Ritter