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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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa