Haydn: Mass in B flat major "Harmony Mass"; Sinfonia in D major; Symphony No. 88 (CD review)

Mariss Jansons, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.  BR Klassic 403571900102. 

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) composed half a dozen masses in the last years of his life, the so-called "Harmony Mass" among his final creations in 1802. It is the centerpiece of this program of Haydn works by conductor Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

But before the Mass, we start out with the Sinfonia in D major, 1a:7, which the composer used several more times as an opera overture and as a movement for a couple of symphonies. It's a mildly attractive tune, if more than a little forgettable. Next, we get Haydn's Symphony No. 88, which is slightly more satisfying thanks to Jansons's lively beat and frothy bounce. The conductor brings out the work's dance rhythms nicely, although he takes the outer movements a bit too briskly at times for my taste.

Then we come to the main attraction, the star of the show, the Mass in B flat major, known as the "Harmony Mass" for its large-scale scoring of wind instruments. It's a grand combination of classical symphonic style and Baroque choral fugues of which Jansons makes the most. He persuades his soloists and choir to sing robustly yet expressively, projecting a delightfully grand-scale account of the activities. What's more, you'll even hear echoes of Mozart's operas in here, making the Mass more than a mere accompaniment for a church service but a charming piece of stand-alone music.

The snag in the proceedings is that BR Klassics recorded the 2008 album live in the enormous Waldsassen Basilika, which is quite reverberant, making the sound bigger, more resonant, more billowy, and less transparent than necessary. Worse, we get an outbreak of applause after each work to distract us from the purely musical enjoyment of the program. Still, the recording probably captures the acoustic of the cathedral pretty well, meaning in a highly reflective, somewhat veiled manner.


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Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

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Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa