Originally recorded in the early 1960's, this recording has been re-mastered at 24-bit/96 kHz from the original master tapes.
The Argo/King's recordings from the 1950s and 1960s achieved a 'classic' status which has been unsurpassed (the unique 1963 King's recording of Allegri's Miserere is one of the key releases in the initial Legends collection). During the 1950s the Argo/King's recordings concentrated on unaccompanied choral music and services ('A Festival of Lessons and Carols', etc.) and then, in 1962, came this spine-tingling account of Haydn's dramatic 'Nelson Mass'.
The 'Nelson Mass' is described by the noted Haydn expert, H.C. Robbins Landon, as 'arguably Haydn's greatest single composition'. Haydn certainly did not write another work which generates such extraordinary power and energy, and this aspect is fully realised in this vivid performance from King's. Here is a work of high drama, with blazing trumpets, soaring solo soprano lines, vigorous choral music and a climax in the Benedictus of truly shattering impact. The 'Nelson Mass' does also have moments of repose (the bass solo Qui tollis and the soprano solo Et incarnatus est) and these tend to heighten the drama of the music which surrounds them.
This recording of the 'Nelson Mass' uses the original score - featuring high trumpets and solo organ. It is this version which creates a much more exciting impression than later "toned-down" versions of the score. The programme is completed with King's recordings of two other well-known choral works - Vivaldi's Gloria, RV 589 (recorded 1966) and Handel's Coronation Anthem 'Zadok the Priest'
'The performance is very fine indeed ... Sylvia Stahlman's firm and fresh voice rings out clearly in the dramatic and florid passages allotted to her and is beautifully expressive in the few softer passages. Helen Watts and Wilfred Brown are admirable and it is a pleasure to hear Tom Krause's fine voice in this well-balanced team. He sings the solo part in 'Qui tollis' of the Gloria splendidly ... the boys sing with heart-warming vitality and radiant tone and here again the choral balance of parts is good; the organ comes through well and the LSO are in fine form ... This is an issue of outstanding interest and importance ... a performance which sends shivers down the spine.' Gramophone
'When these recordings first came out, far in advance of the period instrument revolution, they were revelations. Though modern instruments were used, there was an effort to get performance practices right, especially in the Handel and Vivaldi. And there was the incredibly powerful, absolutely heavenly sound of that chorus of men and boys, as well as the lifelike recordings that perfectly captured the vast space of the Chapel of King's College. Since that time there have been other performances that depict the letter of each work to a greater degree than these, but many listeners will argue that there are none that have better encapsulated the spirit of this music. Though reference recordings of the Haydn and Vivaldi are listed, I have to admit that there are no readings that I like better than these. The opening of the Haydn, with Sylvia Stahlman soaring to the heights in the best performance of her short-lived career, is one of the more powerful moments in the history of recorded choral music, and this version of the Handel anthem still stands as the best recording of that work. Stahlman is not alone, as Elizabeth Vaughan, Dame Janet Baker, Helen Watts, Wilfred Brown, and Tom Krause all have many moments of vocal glory. These are star-studded "great singing" recordings in which the artists will be remembered as much as the music itself.' ClassicsToday.com
Extract from the sleeve notes by Andrew Parker
Argo's project to record all of Haydn's Masses started with the relatively large-scale performance of the 'Nelson Mass' by King's in 1962. This was almost ten years before the early music revolution began to gain force in Britain, and perhaps the tempi and performance style, as well as employing reduced forces of the London Symphony Orchestra, now seem dated. Yet I remember myself how stunning and vital these performances sounded then, and indeed Alec Robertson described the recording as 'an issue of outstanding interest and importance' in Gramophone magazine at the time.
Sylvia Stahlman, soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
Wilfred Brown, tenor
Tom Krause, baritone
Elizabeth Vaughan, soprano
Janet Baker, contralto
The Choir of King's College, Cambridge
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields
English Chamber Orchestra
Sir David Willcocks
Recording location: Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, in July/August 1962 (Haydn), July/August 1963 (Handel)
Producer: Andrew Raeburn
Recording engineer: Kenneth Wilkinson