Sunday, 5 June 2016

Haydn - Complete Mass Edition - CM90/Hickox

Rating: 5/5

An excellent set

Haydn's mass settings are superb and some may truly be called masterpieces, I think - the Nelson Mass and the Theresienmesse among them. They are full of fabulous music and this is an excellent set of all of Haydn's masses. I also have a much-played and loved set on Decca of 60s recordings by George Guest and others. Both are terrific but as a set I think I prefer this one.

The recordings from the late 1990s show why Richard Hickox is regarded as one of the finest choral conductors of the 20th Century. With a large series of recordings like this by a single ensemble there is always the worry that some pieces may have a slight done-to-order feel or that it will begin to sound a bit weary in places. In fact, Hickox draws wonderful performances from his soloists and chorus throughout and the engagement with both music and text is a delight. In the Sanctus of the Nelson Mass, for example, the dense, beautiful intensity of "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus" develops into light-filled joy at "pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua," as the world really does seem to be filled with glory. The same glory can be found in plenty of places - the opening of the Gloria of the Threresienmesse is particularly wonderful - not because of over-loud blazing bombast, but sheer beauty and joyfulness of playing and singing.

The soloists, who include stars like Mark Padmore, Steven Varcoe and Nancy Argenta, are uniformly excellent and the chorus and instrumental ensemble are terrific. With roughly 25 players and an equal number of singers (although this varies a bit) they are light and supple, but have enough power to provide the necessary welly when needed. Instrumentalists include people like Simon Standage, Crispian Steele-Perkins and David Blackadder which gives an idea of the quality of the performers here.

The recorded sound is clear and warm with just the right amount of resonance to enhance the sound without blurring it, the presentation is attractive and the notes are very good. This really is a set to give pleasure for many years and, at this price for 8CDs of fabulous music in first-rate performances, you can't really go wrong. Very warmly recommended.

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