on 24 July 2006
This was my first recording of the Nelson Mass, and it has a peculiarly English grace to it, typical of Trevor Pinnock. I love it absolutely, and even now I am still torn between this and the new Sir John Eliot Gardiner recording. As lovely as Richard Hickox's version is, it lacks that male-alto tone to bring through that particular line, most obvious at the third part of the Creed with their top D 'NON!' - a very favourite moment.
Pinnock's recording is full of class, grace, excitement and is beautifully performed. The production quality again is excellent as one would expect from Archiv.
The superb booklet outlines the various reasons why this arguably most miraculous of all Haydn's masses has left such a tangle of ambiguity and mystery behind it since its composition in 1798, during the Napoleonic Wars.
Haydn's boss Nikolaus Esterhazy was dead, and the new man in charge, Prince Paul Anton, disbanded the court musicians, leaving the adaptable composer footloose and free to travel, which he did, his itinerary taking in England, where he triumphed. On Anton's death and the succession of Nikolaus II, the musicians were reinstated, and Haydn returned to the palace where he was encouraged to compose scared works by his new employer and mentor.
The third of these six late masses - and what a magnificent achievement they are - was the Missa in angustiis, or 'Mass in straitened times', which possibly refers to the ongoing threat from Napoleon (rather than the cuts at court). It gained its other name, the "Nelson Mass" either after the great admiral's defeat of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, or two years later when Nelson himself (accompanied by his mistress Lady Hamilton) visited the Esterhazys, and met and got on famously with Haydn, going so far as to give the composer a watch in return for the pen with which he wrote his scores. A fly on that wall I would love to have been.
A nice story, and quite possibly true. (It certainly pays to read the informed notes in such a lavish booklet. The photos included are worth having too.)
Whatever name we know it by, this mass shows a fertile musical imagination at full stretch, with a display of instrumental colouring and a melodic genius that is outstanding even for the resourceful Haydn.
It's a wonderful work!
My interest in the Napoleonic era (could you tell?) was a further spur to hearing getting to know this 42-minute mass, and I am so very glad I took the trouble. I'm not a fully paid-up Haydn buff, preferring some works to others, but with the late masses, composed in his sixties - along with with the Creation from the same year as the Nelson - I think he excelled himself.
He had no winds or horns (they'd been disbanded - more cuts!) but we get instead a most welcome organ, and a concentration on orchestra and voices that is utterly compelling.
This is a near-perfect recording, and a justly praised one. The singing - Felicity Lott's gleaming soprano for example - is irreproachable, and the English Consort under Pinnock weave rare magic.
The brief, lively Te Deum is an eight-minute delight to round off an endlessly rewarding disc.
As I say, a wonderful recording of a wonderful work.
on 2 July 2000
If you are fairly new to classical music you might easily pick up the notion that the "Nelson" Mass is the only one of Haydn's efforts in the genre worth your while in collecting.Certainly, that's the impression,that most of the beginner's guides and critical overviews seem to give.But let me tell you now,that essential listening though it is,Haydn's other 13 settings of the ordinary of the mass,are for the main part just as desirable,and when it comes to the astonishing "late" masses,of which the Nelson is one,they quite often match,and sometimes even surpass it for sheer beauty of interpretation and expression.So take my advice,and after you've bought this particular disc-as you surely must-go on to order the complete masses,which are still available in a nifty 7CD boxset,courtesy of the Decca label.The Nelson mass there is musically very good but the recording is impossible to live with.However,there are plenty other treasures to feast your ears on,and I'm sure that once you've listened to them,you will wonder how you've survived so long in the world without them in your possession.
Anyway,to the matter at hand.From the ominous opening bars of the"Kyrie",with it's menacing trumpets and timpani,it's clear that we are in for a stormy musical sea-passage,and indeed the outer movements are as turbulent and anxious as anything Haydn wrote.In fact,the actual name of the mass i.e."Missa in Angustiis",or "Mass in straitened times" comes to seem singularly appropriate. Yet for all it's fury and flying spray,we do emerge at times into calmer waters,and I'm thinking especially of the "Qui tollis" section of the Gloria,where the bass is accompanied by some lovely scoring for the strings and organ.Then there is the emotional and gravitational centre of the whole piece,the "Et incarnatus" in the Credo.It takes the form of a quite gorgeous aria for the soprano (Felicity Lott on great form)and is my favourite section of the whole mass.It's followed by the tragic descent to the "et sepultus est",and here I must make mention of the glorious contribution of the English Concert choir.Their superb word-painting is a distinctive feature of this recording in general,but the heart-rending emotion they draw out of the "Crucifixus" is absolutely wonderful.My hat is off to you ladies and gentlemen should you ever pass this review in you travels
The "Benedictus" here is a world away from the serene,prayerful setting that you may have come to expect at this point in the proceedings,and it's interesting to compare this forceful and downright violent interpretation with the corresponding section in the "Heiligmesse".Talk about "chalk and cheese"! If you haven't heard the latter yet;then boy, are you in for a treat as it's one of the most exquisite creations in all music.
The "Agnus Dei" gives us a little respite and time to collect our shattered nerves before launching us once more into the crashing waves of the "Dona nobis pacem" which catagorically demands peace,rather than petitioning God for it on bended knee.But it is the only possible way Haydn could have concluded such an unsettling journey through the liturgy,and if we are cast ashore slightly battered and bruised by it all,at least we had the privilege of glimpsing true beauty in the midst of the tempest.
It was a brilliant notion of whoever chose the programme for this CD to conclude it with the marvellous "Te Deum".It has comparable sonorities and orchestration to the main item,but is much more celebratory as a whole,and gives our excellent choir a golden opportunity to bawl their lungs out in certain places! By the way,is it just me,or does the opening figure for the strings,sound just like the Jerome Moross score for the western,"The Big Country"? I've never heard any critic refer to it,but surely it has that same sweeping impetus that conjures up images of the praries and high Sierra.Perhaps it's entirely my imagination,but check it out for yourself and tell me I'm not crazy!
This fine disc, well recorded in 1986, delivers a totally thrilling and enlivening recording of both the Nelson Mass and the Te Deum. This is home territory for Pinnock, his orchestra and choir to which he has added a fine set of solo singers.
This is one of the most energetic late masses by Haydn written towards the end of his life. There is an urgency about the writing and a demand of God to care rather than a more modest request. This is music written by a man in a hurry with no time to spare and Pinnock absolutely captures the urgency of the music.
At the time of this recording the period movement was fully established with complete control over the technical matters to do with the technical problems of playing period instruments. Gone were the moments of doubtful tuning and gone too were the sour or thin string tones. What we are left with is a thrillingly incisive composition where we can hear everything that Haydn had so carefully balanced for maximum effect.
Given the undoubted excellence of this disc and its longevity, it has been a valued member of my collection for 235 years so far, I can only suggest that it continues to be considered as a front runner for anyone contemplating buying a disc of the music either now or in the foreseeable future.
Trevor Pinnock treats this magnificent music by Haydn with all the seriousness it deserves, while also providing the energy needed to get the message across: listening, there can be no doubt that the 'Nelson' Mass was written for performance in very turbulent times, when the future was far from clear (this must have been especially felt by someone like Haydn, who had grown up in a much more ordered world).
Although this is one of the most recorded of the Haydn masses (as well as perhaps being the best known), the performance here will stand comparision with any recorded before or since. If you have other versions, you need this one as well. And if you don't have others, this would do very well as your only version.