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Boston Baroque - Haydn: Lord Nelson Mass - Boston Globe

08 March 2014
Boston Globe
Jeffrey Gantz

Apart from offering fine performances of two major works by Joseph Haydn, this latest release from Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque is a document from the days following the Boston Marathon bombings last April. The Mass and the symphony were recorded on the two days after Patriots Day, in Worcester's Mechanics Hall, and then performed at Jordan Hall at the end of the week.

The program for the concert and the recording session had of course been made before the bombings, so the choice of Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis," or "Mass in Troubled Times," as it was originally known, was a remarkable coincidence. Haydn composed it in the summer of 1798, when Napoleon was on the verge of conquering Egypt. Just before the premiere, the news came that Lord Nelson had defeated Napoleon at Aboukir, and the Mass eventually became known as the "Lord Nelson" Mass. But the times were also economically troubled. Haydn's patron, Prince Eszterházy, had recently dismissed his orchestra's woodwinds and horns, so the composer had to make do with trumpets and timpani supplementing the strings.

It's a martial Mass, the timpani erupting at unexpected points, like the beginning of the hushed Sanctus, and Haydn does wonders with triple time, the Kyrie suggesting a triumphant polonaise, the "Qui tollis peccata mundi" of the Gloria a funeral march. Pearlman's soloists - soprano Mary Wilson, mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer, tenor Keith Jameson, and bass-baritone Kevin Deas - are an appropriately anguished quartet, and the performance as a whole is a fervent one, though nothing could be more serenely glowing than the "Et incarnatus est" of the Credo.

Pearlman's reading of the symphony, which was composed in London in 1794, is a straightforward affair. It could have more variety in tempo, and Linn's recording, close and sharply focused, could have more atmosphere. The Presto finale, however, with its stop-and-start theme, does full justice to Haydn's wit.

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