Bach wrote a mass at the end of his life, and everybody knows it's one of the supreme sacred works in all western music. Mozart wrote a requiem at the end of his life, and everybody knows it's one of the supreme sacred works in all western music. So how come Haydn, who wrote six -- count 'em, six -- masses at the end of his life, and how many people know them, much less know that they are among the supreme sacred works in all western music? Not many: although they were composed after his last 12 great symphonies, after his last eight great string quartets, and alongside his two great oratorios, for most listeners, Haydn's masses are musical terra incognito.
Part of the reason, of course, is a distinct lack of great recordings. Aside from the superlative series by David Willcocks and George Guest from the '60s, recordings of Haydn's masses have been rarer than recordings of Havergal Brian's symphonies. In the early days of digital, EMI hired Neville Marriner -- he of the elegant Mozart and the graceful Vivaldi -- to record Haydn's masses. As this reissue of the Paukenmesse and the Schopfungsmesse shows, the results were serviceable but not much more. While Marriner and his forces -- the Staatskapelle Dresden, the Rundfunkchor Leipzig, and eight A-list soloists -- acquit themselves with skill and conviction, neither he nor they seem especially convinced by the works so they cannot hope to convince the listener. The addition to the program of Gerhard Wilhelm's more than serviceable and far more convincing 1969 recording of the Missa Cellensis with the Instrumentalensemble Werner Keltsch, the Stuttgarter Hymnus-Chorknaben, and four B-list soloists -- merely serves to make Marriner look drab. EMI's late stereo sound is more real than its early digital sound.