The Arts Fuse: CD Review of Haydn Masses, Vol. 1

by Jonathan Blumhofer

Harry Christophers and the Handel & Haydn Society (H&H) continue their survey of Haydn symphonies with a new release pairing the E-flat-major Symphony no. 99 with the Mass no. 14 in B-flat major (Harmoniemesse).

As usual, Christophers draws playing of elegance and character from his instrumental forces in the Symphony. The opening movement is, on the whole, graceful – even, at times, a bit balletic – its episodes of dotted rhythms always tautly played. Woodwind solos in the slow second movement are pristine: warm, pure-toned, and perfectly balanced. The third, if taken at a rather breathless tempo, is rollicking, though taking all the repeats on the “da capo” pushes the minuet to the breaking point.

Oddly, the finale veers in the other direction, feeling a mite held back. It’s lively and clean-textured, certainly, but lacking a degree of carefree abandon it ought to possess.

The Mass comes over wonderfully. Christophers’ choral forces are among the best in Boston and they sound like it here, singing with resplendent color, true intonation, rich tone, and an athleticism that’s simply breathtaking. They’re matched and winningly complemented by soloists Mireille Asselin, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Jeremy Budd, and Sumner Thompson.

Throughout the performance, Christophers revels in Haydn’s melodic invention, be that the Mass’s unfolding solo lyrical lines (like the “Gratias agimus tibi” and “Et incarnatus est”) or the score’s lithe contrapuntal displays (the “Et vitam venturi” at the end of the “Credo” is simply a blast). The result is a fresh, spirited performance that is both weighty and nimble, serene and dramatic.

As in the Symphony, the Mass’s woodwind solos (notably those in the “Et incarnatus est,” “Agnus Dei,” and “Dona nobis pacem”) shine.

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