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When Prince Nicholas Esterhazy died and an unmusical prince took over, Haydn left a lifetime of work behind him and moved to England. When Prince Anton died years later and Prince Nicholas II ascended, Haydn was once again asked back to the palace in Eisenstadt, and Haydn spent his remaining years in familiar territory. One of his new duties under Prince Nicholas II was to write a mass honoring the religious name day of his wife Princess Maria Hermenegild; that day is known as Mariahimmelfahrt. Known as Haydn's six late masses, they are unparalleled masterpieces of Haydn's late oeuvre and show Haydn's kindred spirit that he and the princess shared; this was a duty Haydn enjoyed. It is a shame Haydn didn't write more; the music is imaginative and inspired, utilizing soloist, chorus, and whatever combination of instrumentalists were available to him at the time.
The Paukenmesse, Kettledrum Mass, or Mass in Time of War is a mature work that nods to the compositional styles of the past, but forages forward. So named because of the large role for timpani, it is also important to note the non-religious themes present, that of a war-time composition, does not go unnoticed. The form of the mass is standard: Kyrie, Gloria (in 3 parts), Credo (in 4 parts), Sanctus, Benedictus, and the Agnus Dei (in 2 parts). Of particular note in the Paukenmesse is the lovely cello/bass soloist duet in the Gloria (Qui tollis peccata mundi section), the soloist ensemble in the Benedictus, the nearly scary marching (with timpani solo) in the opening of the Agnus Dei, which literally explodes into a war-like fanfare at the Cum sancto spiritu section, a truly heraldic moment.
Also featured on this disk are two settings (in C major) of the Te Deum text, a text historically set for celebrating special occasions, usually church services dedicated to royal ascensions or marriages. The first, and lesser known, Te Deum of 1763 features brass, timpani, soloists, and chorus as one continuous whole, but in three sections (fast/slow/fast). The well known Te Deum of 1799, also in three sections, features brass and timpani, but for chorus alone. The second setting shows a more mature Haydn, more pleasant melodies and orchestrations with unbridled energy, the first setting more classically-based.
The filler music is from the incomplete opera, Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons. The Guardian Spirit aria features solo soprano, sung by Nancy Argento, a lovely piece with an odd speaking portion. Also included is the Chorus of the Danes, a typical operatic chorus of the classical era.
Chandos by now has probably released the entire collection of Haydn's choral works on CD. Here performed on period instruments, the sound elicited is not full and romantic, but instead, a bit more raw. All excellently played, the tempos are swift, the articulation is hard-cut, and the musicianship is fine. The chorus is also excellent, balanced pretty well over the instruments (although I would prefer a drier hall or closer miking for the chorus to speak a little clearer). This is by and far the best performance of the mass and Te Deum's by an all-adult chorus on record (London/Decca has a release with a boys choir) and the most up-to-date scholarly detailed look at Haydn's music by a period ensemble. All important choral works, well performed, easy to recommend.