Owen Burdick / Rebel

Haydn: Nikolaimesse; Nelson Mass

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This is a selection from a complete set of Haydn masses recorded over several years by the REBEL Baroque Orchestra (which is named after French composer Jean-Féry Rebel and nowhere offers a justification for shouting their name in all caps), along with the Trinity Choir from the New York church of the same name. The music-making has been consistently strong over the entire set, but the individual albums may make good choices for buyers wanting to sample the large range of interpretations of Haydn's mass settings. Here, as in several other of the individual releases, an early Haydn mass setting is paired with one of the six large and festive late pieces that have always been central to the Haydn repertory. The setting of the Mass in G major, Hob. 22/6, of 1772, known as the Nikolaimesse and composed for the name day of Haydn's patron Nicolaus Esterházy, shows off the virtues of conductor J. Owen Burdick's approach. Burdick has managed a nice fusion of the semi-professional American church choir sound with period instrumentation, and his reading of this pastoral-flavored mass, with a lot of 6/8 meter, has a delightfully warm simplicity. The orchestra is among the first American groups that can stand with Europe's best, and Burdick's efforts in forging clear textures and in balancing orchestra and choir in the cavernous spaces of Trinity Church are impressive indeed. The Mass in D minor, Hob. 22/11, was titled by Haydn Missa in angustiis (Mass in Time of Anguish) but later renamed the Lord Nelson mass in honor of the man who checked the advance of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was causing the anguish. It's an imposing work featuring martial D minor blasts from trumpets and timpani, sharply contrasting with jubilant major solos. The performances here are modest in scale, and listeners' reactions may depend on whether they buy Burdick's interpretation. Sample the soprano soloist's entrance in the Kyrie, with what annotator Jennifer More Glagov (whose notes are given in English and German) aptly described as "frenzied…flourishes." Here they are quite a bit less than frenzied, although soprano Ann Hoyt accurately negotiates them. The question is whether the soloists in the work need to be somewhat operatic in order to stand up to the music; the ones here are not, but there are again many fresh details that come through nicely in Burdick's reading. The album is well worth hearing for lovers of the Lord Nelson mass, but one of the other discs may be a better choice for those sampling this series.

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