Notes and Editorial Reviews
Under Bruno Weil’s spirited direction both the Tolz Boys’ Choir, with their bright-edged, slightly breathy tone, and the crack period orchestra, Tafelmusik, are in first-rate form. These works receive energetic, uplifting readings, with brisk tempos, fresh, incisive choral work.
A special attraction for Haydn lovers here is the first-ever recording of the unfinished ode Mare Clausum, commissioned in 1794 by Haydn’s colourful English friend Lord Abingdon, and evidently abandoned when the nobleman was imprisoned for libel. The gauche, crudely chauvinistic verses, trumpeting England’s sovereignty of the sea, should make the most hardened Europhobe blush. But the two numbers Haydn completed are worthy of his ripest style: a noble F major bass aria with rich, inventive writing for woodwind, authoritatively sung by Harry van der Kamp (despite a hint of rawness on the top notes), and a D major chorus whose verve and contrapuntal power presage the late Masses and oratorios.
Under Bruno Weil’s spirited direction both the Tolz Boys’ Choir, with their bright-edged, slightly breathy tone, and the crack period orchestra, Tafelmusik, are on first-rate form here and throughout this enterprisingly planned disc. It includes the thrilling, majestic late Te Deum and the motet Insanae et vanae curae, adapted from a ‘storm’ chorus in the oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia and foreshadowing in its D minor apocalyptic grandeur the Mozart of Don Giovanni and the Requiem. Weil’s reading is eagerly responsive to the music’s drama, with taut rhythms, sharp dynamic contrasts and keen instrumental detailing; and he maintains the initial pulse through the tranquil D major sections, where most conductors I’ve heard slow up markedly, to the detriment of structural cohesion. Between these masterpieces the four little Motetti de Venerabili from the 1750s (another recorded first) inevitably sound tame, for all their easy tunefulness and skilful marshalling of rococo cliche.
The largest work on the disc is, of course, the so-called Heiligmesse, first of the six magnificent Mass settings of Haydn’s old age. Like the shorter pieces, this receives an energetic, uplifting reading, with brisk tempos, fresh, incisive choral work (real exhilaration in, say, the closing fugue of the Gloria) and strongly etched orchestral colours (clarinets, trumpets and timpani well in the picture). In one or two sections Weil can drive too hard – the gravely contrapuntal “Gratias”, for instance, which has an inappropriate restlessness (and where Harry van der Kamp sometimes overwhelms the excellent boy soloists). And I would have liked more tender, graceful shaping in the exquisite canonic “Et incarnatus est” (which follows the opening section of the Credo after too short a pause – something I noticed elsewhere in these performances), and the Benedictus, where Weil plays up the march background rather at the expense of the music’s mystery and spirituality. But there is no doubting the vigour and joyfulness of Weil’s reading, nor the skill and commitment of his forces. Quite apart from its pioneering value, this is an inspiriting Haydn collection whose appeal is enhanced by vivid sound and a typically enthusiastic, informative note from the composer’s alter ego, H. C. Robbins Landon.
-- Richard Wigmore, Gramophone [7/1996]