Gardiner brings to Haydn the sure hand that he applies to his famous Handel recordings such as "Solomon." His new recording of the last two Haydn masses has all the great virtues of Gardiner's best Philips Handel recordings: brisk tempi that create excitement without ever overwhelming detail, utmost care in shaping phrases, and choral-orchestral forces second to none in terms of responsiveness. The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque soloists are now almost certainly the finest body working in the eighteenth-century choral repertoire.
And the Philips engineers bring to this recording the winning strategies they've employed in Gardiner's celebrated Handel discs: no foggy church-like accoustic for them. The music emerges with the clarity and impact of a slightly lively concert hall. This results in truly equal billing for chorus and orchestra. Every word, every orchestral flourish (especially the brass, never better recorded in a Haydn mass) emerge with superb clarity.
If I have one tiny complaint it is that some of the soloists in the Harmoniemesse don't match the tonal beauty of their counterparts in the Schopfungsmesse. But both sets of soloists blend perfectly in ensemble numbers, so I feel churlish raising this objection.
Given that Philips has decided to include these two masses, with over 80 minutes' worth of music, on two CDs for the price of one, this recording also represents a real bargain for those who want the late masses of Haydn--not short fillers. Gardiner's Haydn mass series should be a great one, and I'm happy to recommend with warmth the first installment.