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Hummel: Mass In B Flat, Tantum Ergo / Floreen, Westminster Oratorio Choir

Release Date: 11/1991 
Label:  Koch International Classics Catalog #: 7117   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Conductor:  John Eric Floreen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Oratorio ChoirNew Brunswick Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 36 Mins. 

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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

In reviewing the only Hummel mass to enjoy a recording prior to this one—namely, the Eb Mass, op. 80—I made the erroneous statement that Hummel wrote three masses, taking that number from the older Grove or perhaps from the program notes. It appears that there are five Hummel masses, as enumerated in The New Grove, the last two of them presumably of recent discovery and not yet published. Here is the revised listing:

Mass in B?, op. 77 (1804-1810; pub. 1818)

Mass in E?, op. 80 (1804; pub. 1819/20)

Mass in D, op. 11 (1808; pub. c. 1830)

Mass in D Minor, S.67/W.13 (August 1805)

Missa Solemnis in C Minor, S.174/W.12 (March 1806)

As can be seen, the
Read more dates of composition are very close together. Hummel wrote masses only while he was in the employ of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy (from 1804 to about 1810). When the Prince fired him (mainly for spending too much time away from the job), Hummel gladly gave up ecclesiastical composing—as had Mozart, once he was bounced by the Archbishop of Salzburg. But this certainly does not reflect negatively on the work Hummel did for Esterházy. Both of the masses that I have heard are works of genuine quality, halfway in style between the late Haydn masses and Beethoven's C-Major Mass, which was also written for Prince Nikolaus. We are told that the Prince made a disparaging remark about the work to Beethoven, who left the castle in high dudgeon, having already been insulted by the accommodations provided him by Nikolaus (he was put up in a cottage on the grounds, rather than in the castle). Poor Hummel got blamed for this lèse majesté as well, and Beethoven refused to speak to him for years, though he was guilty of nothing worse than smiling when the Prince, after hearing a rehearsal of Beethoven's mass, said to him, “Now what have you gone and done, Beethoven!“ No such altercations could have happened with the good-natured Hummel, who in any case wrote the sort of masses that Esterházy approved of: a little more “modern“ than Haydn's, but not disturbingly so.

The Eb Mass is conceived on rather grander lines, with four soloists as well as four-part chorus and orchestra. The Bb work under review dispenses with the soloists and, in so doing, loses some intimacy and direct lyricism—some mass appeal, as it were. But it's an impressive work. The Kyrie is treated lyrically, with a minimum of counterpoint in the four choral parts. It is, in effect, a three-part Lied on a massive scale. The Gloria is all excited allegro through “Filius Patris“; then follows a hushed, prayerful “Qui tollis,“ with strings subtlely colored by woodwinds and with some harmonic surprises. The allegro takes over for the remaining text, and this segment of the mass closes with an efficient and ambitious fugal “Amen.“ Trumpets and timpani are in high profile here, as in the other brilliant parts of the work. The Credo opens with a surprise: several measures of unaccompanied chorus, imitating Gregorian chant. Even when the orchestra joins the voices, the mood remains modal, relatively muted, and the technique polyphonic. The “Et Incarnato“ is a beauty: the sopranos begin it, with pizzicato strings. Unhappily, it is underdeveloped and passes away all too quickly. Admonitory, low trumpet fanfares announce the Resurrection. The concluding portion of the “Credo“—always a problem for musical setting, with its prosy Nicean references to one, Catholic, apostolic Church, etc.—is not one of the strong points of Hummel's setting either. But the succeeding Sanctus makes up for it, first with its Handelian, double-dotted opening, then the hushed “Pleni sunt coeli“ and the sheer delight of the dancing “Osanna in excelsis.“

One always looks forward to the “Benedictes“ in a nineteenth-century mass setting (even in a sixteenth-century one, for that matter) and this one doesn't disappoint, even if Hummel does not have the solo voices to make it the personal statement it should be. It begins in lyric major but eventually reaches a more sobering mood, with trumpets, drums, and counterpoint heightening the tension (all these devices borrowed from Haydn). Then it returns to the % placidity of the opening. For some incomprehensible reason, Koch's producer fails to provide the “Agnus Dei“ with its own track number, although the index number advances from :01 to :02. This is an entirely separate movement from the preceding Benedictus and should have been treated as such. It begins lyrically, as in the opening Kyrie, then turns brilliant and celebratory for the concluding “Dona nobis pacem,“ again following Haydn's eternal optimism, which turns a supplication for peace into peace achieved. The solo instrumental asides in this final movement are exquisitely crafted by Hummel.

The Mass does not nearly fill a standard compact disc, and the three-minute Tantum Ergo appended as a filler is not likely to make the thrifty feel they've gotten their full value. Hummel adapted this piece from an orchestral passage in Gluck's opera Alceste (the “Pantomime in Apollo's Temple“ from act I). In its new choral dress it sounds astonishingly like Mozart's “Ave verum corpus,“ a fact that had never struck me in listening to Gluck's original.

We are given all too few opportunities these days to enjoy the beautifully trained choirs of New Jersey's Westminster Choir College. The school has five or six of them and the one heard here, the Westminster Oratorio Choir, is made up solely of sophomores. Their really splendid singing is testimony to the quality of training they receive under their choral director, Allen Crowell. The conductor of the performance, John Eric Floreen, chairman of the Music Department of Rutgers University, is also to be commended for his tempos, phrasing, and balances. It is Floreen's own edition of Hummel's Bb Mass, published by Oxford University Press, that is used here.

-- David Johnson, FANFARE [5/1992] Read less

Works on This Recording

Mass in B flat major, Op. 77 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Conductor:  John Eric Floreen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Oratorio Choir,  New Brunswick Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: circa 1804-1810; Eszterhazá, Hungary 
Tantum Ergo after Gluck's "Alceste" by Johann Nepomuk Hummel
Conductor:  John Eric Floreen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Westminster Oratorio Choir,  New Brunswick Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1806; Eszterhazá, Hungary 

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