An engaging Haydn
In 1798, Napoleon’s threat to Europe was rapidly increasing, prompting Haydn to name his latest choral piece, “Mass in a Time of Anxiety.” A week before its premiere, Admiral Nelson’s British fleet won a decisive battle against Napoleon and the work became popularly known as “Lord Nelson Mass.”
Boston Baroque, established in 1973 as the first permanent Baroque orchestra in the U.S., was preparing to record the mass on the April day the Boston Marathon bombings occurred. With an extra incentive to convey the work’s turbulent clouds of despair and sunny rays of hope, the orchestra, chorus and soloists, conducted by Martin Pearlman, give a vivid, incisive account of this uplifting music.
The original score had strings, trumpet, timpani and organ only (Haydn’s patron having defunded the other instruments), but many later performances have filled in the orchestra and beefed up the chorus, adding a heaviness that blunts its edge. Here, employing the original, Pearlman elicits a bracing sharpness, thrilling in the darker sections, refreshing in the uplifting portions. The clarity of the intimate chorus and the lovely blend of the solo quartet make for an engaging experience that invites repeated listening. The CD includes Haydn’s perky, humor-laced 1794 Symphony No. 102, a perfect finale to this gratifying disc.
Correspondent Roy C. Dicks