The recordings of German conductor Helmuth Rilling are sometimes unorthodox, especially when he goes beyond his central specialty: the music of J.S. Bach. These Haydn recordings exemplify both Rilling's strengths and his unorthodox qualities. As usual, Rilling uses modern instruments and fairly substantial choirs. Yet his approach to the Lord Nelson Mass seems informed by historical-performance minimalism. Rilling resolutely declines to turn the work into an impassioned peroration, beginning with a very restrained Kyrie and never really upping the volume in the big choral passages. The result is a performance that makes some listeners feel that the work is less a work "written in times of anguish," as the Haydn-era subtitle proclaims it, than perhaps a work written in a time of mild annoyance. Yet Rilling, well into his eighth decade, forges a genuinely fresh interpretation of the work. In his Lord Nelson Mass the focus is not on the choir but on the soloists, who step into the spotlight in front of the soft-spoken choir. Soprano Letizia Scherrer is bouncy and graceful at the beginning of the Gloria, and the choir stands back and lets her dance. The effect is very unusual, yet the listener may decide that Rilling is right and the field is wrong -- that the usual large choir belting out this passage is missing the point. The sunnier Creation Mass also benefits from this approach, and on the second half of the disc one gets a taste of Rilling's raw skills as a choral conductor: he leads different sets of performers in the two works, but he manages to get the same kind of expression from each. The Lord Nelson Mass features Rilling's own Gächinger Kantorei and Bach Collegium Stuttgart, while the Creation Mass is performed by the Oregon Bach Festival Chorus and Orchestra. All these groups are of local orientation, but Rilling makes them into perfectly smooth ensembles that can hold their own with the world-class soloists involved. The recording is beautifully engineered and picks up the wealth of instrumental detail revealed by Rilling's circumspect approach. Sample before you buy, especially in the Lord Nelson Mass, but this is a unique late-life statement from a German conducting legend.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Mass for soloists, chorus, organ & orchestra in D minor ("Lord Nelson"), H. 22/11|
|Mass for soloists, chorus, organ & orchestra in B flat major ("Schöpfungsmesse"), H. 22/13|