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Customer Review

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haydn's Heavenly harvest., 25 Jun. 2001
This review is from: Haydn: The Masses (Audio CD)
In all sincerity and honesty I can't think of many other box sets of music that will give you as much enjoyment and satisfaction over the course of time as this fabulous Decca treasure trove of Joseph Haydn's 13 settings of the Mass.I've lived with and loved the original individual releases for over a decade now,and it's wonderful to see them all cosily garnered together in such a convenient form at last.
It's astonishing to consider just what a glittering galaxy of talent was brought to bear upon this landmark recording project,that stretched out from 1965 to 1979.For our money we get three tremendous choirs (King's College,Christ Church and St.John's) and more famous soloists than you could shake a stick at.And could the music be in safer hands than those of the ASMF;AAM or the LSO ? Also,never forget the crucial contribution of those legendary recording engineers,Kenneth Wilkinson and John Dunkerley,who's technical genius and wizardy enabled them to capture these fabulous performances in such gloriously,warm,full-bodied and spacious sound.
The earliest Masses were in fact the last to be recorded in the late 1970s.Simon Preston skillfully marshals the AAM,Christ Church Cathedral Choir and his star vocalists in order to produce crisp and vibrant performances of gems like the "Missa Sancti Nicolai" and the "Missa Sancta Caeciliae".I should say though,that excellent though these interpretations are,they do face strong competition from that recent Chandos survey of the Masses under Richard Hickox,and it's well worth your time in lending your ears to both points of view.
George Guest and his brilliant Choir of St.John's College,Cambridge were entrusted with the next Masses in chronological order,i.e. the "Kleine Orgelmesse" of 1777 and the "Mariazeller Messe" of 1782,and what a brilliant fist they make of them too ! The College chapel yields up a really sumptious sound for these lovely Masses to positively revel in.The former setting is a "Missa brevis" and as such is inevitably truncated (the Gloria is a mere 57 seconds long !)in parts,but it does boast that charming 7 minute + Benedictus with it's extended solo for soprano and organ.Jennifer Smith and John Scott make the utmost of their time in the spotlight here.The "Mariazeller Messe" is where you really feel that Haydn has stepped up a gear in terms of the scope and scale of his approach to the Ordinary of the Mass.Marvellously muscular fugues and contrasting moments of tender sensitivity (witness the "Crucifixus") make this a hugely enjoyable and affecting journey through the liturgy,especially when the performance is so energetically infectious as well.
We jump back in time to 1962 for the well known performance of the "Nelson" Mass that was executed at King's College Cambridge under the wing of Sir David Willcocks.I must confess to always having reservations about this particular recording.I have no criticism whatsoever concerning the excellent innate musicianship from all involved,but the acoustic tends to defuse and emasculate the sense of nervous energy and danger that is so crucial to the ultimate success of this Mass,and which is so brilliantly communicated in Trevor Pinnock's tremendous account for Archiv Produktion.
No such problems arise when we move back down the road to St.John's in 1965 to embark upon a four year voyage that would see the remaining five "late" Masses captured for an exceedingly grateful posterity.I can't tell you just how much I simply adore these peerless performances of these stupendous,sacred masterworks that Haydn composed during that glorious Indian summer of his career,when he could bring to bear upon them all the accumulated skills of a lifetime,in which he had perfected the symphony as we know it and polished up several other musical forms for good measure.Where do I even begin to start expounding upon the collective glories of these "fantastic five" ? I could easily write a 1000 word homily on each of them in turn,and I'm dreadfully sorry that space here is so limited and forces me to be almost irreverently terse and abrupt on their behalf.How is it possible that I ever truly called myself alive before discovering such sacred musical wonders like the Benedictus from the "Heligmesse";the Agnus Dei of the "Paukenmesse" or the Kyrie of the "Schopfungsmesse" ? How poverty-struck would my life be without the superb symphonic gothic arch that is the "Theresienmesse" (perhaps my favourite of all),and what a cultural desert my existence would be without been aware of the magical "Harmoniemesse" that brings Haydn's career (as regards large-scale works at any rate) to an unbearably poignant but also sensationally exuberant and unbowed full-stop ? And how much is my life so immeasurably enriched by my acquaintance with their supreme spiritual salve ? DO NOT,I beseech you,let them remain unknown to you for a moment longer:get your credit card out and come join me in musical Heaven.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 22 Dec 2008 19:40:59 GMT
H. Dumpty says:
Extremely interesting and helpful review. Thanks a lot.

Posted on 5 Nov 2009 10:44:35 GMT
Sid Nuncius says:
Cracking review! Thanks. I've had this set for years and agree with every word.

I must say I'm disappointed that Decca haven't re-issued it for the Haydn anniversary year as they did with Dorati's wonderful symphony cycle.

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