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Boston Baroque - Haydn: Lord Nelson Mass - Audiophilia


05 March 2014
Audiophilia
Anthony Kershaw

To suggest that Haydn's greatest work was written in 1798 would not be controversial, and pre-eminent Haydn scholar HC Robbins-Landon certainly agrees - but, rather than the breathtakingly ambitious oratorio ‘The Creation', he nominates for this singular honour the Mass written while Haydn was recovering from his exhausting efforts on that preceding work. By this late stage in his career, Haydn was required only to produce a handful of Masses each year for his employer; referring to the dark cloud cast over Europe by Napoleon's conquests, he named this one "Mass in a Time of Anxiety" but, a week before its premiere, news arrived of Nelson's destruction of the French Navy at the Battle of the Nile, thus explaining its popular moniker. Nelson was to hear the work himself a couple of years later, during a visit to Esterhazy.

From the dramatic blare of brass and timpani in the opening movement, and the jubilant mood apparent almost throughout, there is never a doubt that that this is an exceptional work. The companion piece is one of the London Symphonies, no. 102, written four years earlier - it is, I think, the one that most closely presages what Beethoven was soon to achieve in the symphonic realm. The work's true nickname, ‘Miracle' - referring to a chandelier collapse at the premiere that passed without injury - has mistakenly been assigned by history to the 96th Symphony; though left unappellated here, I observe that it is becoming more common to rectify this error. The performance of both works has the sprightliness, transparency and precision of line that typically result when baroque specialists play classical-era repertoire; I also love the recording, which adds a touch of warmth, not to mention fine soundstaging, to Linn's trademark clarity. This release has featured prominently in 2013 Disc of the Year lists, so you don't even have to take my word for it! 


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