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Notes from the 2014 Salzburg Festival ( 4 )
Ouverture spirituelle • Johann Michael Haydn: St Francis Mass

Ouverture spirituelle • J.M. Haydn & W.A.Mozart

Last Words

Silhouette of M.Haydn (Click for a portrait in oil of J.M.Haydn)

Johann Michael Haydn is given short shrift in music history and music appreciation—which is a shame. Even I have done so, in a recent article about the “History of the Mass” for Listen Magazine, where I gave his brother, that great master at everything (including masses), an unconscionably brief mention, and skipped J.M. altogether. And that, despite masses being the field in which contemporary opinion—Joseph included—thought that Johann Michael certainly matched, and probably exceeded his even then vastly more famous brother.

“Who-exceeds-whom” is a tedious argument to make in music, but it does serve as an introduction to make the case for performing otherwise un(der)performed composers. In this particular case it is meant to raise the interest in J.M. Haydn’s last secular work, the Missa sub titulo Sancti Francisci Seraphici, commissioned by and written for Empress Maria Theresa and performed here, as part of the Overture spirituelle Festival prequel, by Ádám Fischer and the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg.

available at Amazon
W.A.Mozart, Complete Symphonies
A.Fischer / Danish Ntl.CO
Dacapo (12 CDs)
The Missa sounded understated, if anything, though timpani and trumpets were always there for sufficient gloriousness… a strictly classical glory, though, which is to say that all sumptuousness took place within a certain, strict framework, which neither work nor interpreters ever left. This meant a measured stride and everything tailored to a very human scale. The skill of not letting that slip toward boredom, in our age of sensory overload, is the great challenge—especially as on the other side there lurks absurdity when such music gets driven too hard, too abruptly. That, Fischer the elder, his orchestra and his singers, did.

Bass Thomas E. Bauer has a simple, hollow voice that came to bloom only in the Benedictus; Peter Sonn’s fruity, incense-ish tenor pleased considerably, Sophie Rennert’s mezzo was solid if unremarkable, while Martina Janková’s soprano sounded like a throw-back to a top-notch 70s or 80s Mozart recordings: Clear, hard, and with a determined, still-tasteful vibrato. The cello solo and subsequent joining vocal quartet of the “Et incarnates” was truly lovely and quite well played; the first violin meanwhile, which is called to semi-solistic duty in the Agnus Dei, left something to be desired… proper intonation, for one.

available at Amazon
J.M.Haydn, Requiem,
Missa Sanctae Ursulae

R.King / King's Consort / C.Sampson et al.

available at Amazon
J.M.Haydn, Requiem,
Missa Sancti Francisci

H.Rilling / Franz Liszt CO Budapest
After that dose of tempered splendor of the “Salzburg Haydn” came fellow Salzburger Mozart and his last completed work, the Freemason Cantata Laut verkünde unsere Freude. Much like Mozart‘s Freemasonish quasi-cantata for baritone & piano Die ihr des unermesslichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt”, the work is dreadfully lame, banal, rightly forgotten, and would never be performed in a concert hall if it weren’t by Mozart. Given the fawning reception his cantata received from his fellow freemasons, Mozart allegedly said: “If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was my best work.” Mozart knew better, and so do we.

Thank heavens Mozart’s “Linz” Symphony ended this Mozart matinee—in style:  One of the highlights along the chain of Mozart Symphonies—which of course ends up just including one highlight after another, at one point. (The “Linz” might just be that, point, actually.) Mozart symphonies suit Fischer a lot, as we can hear not the least from his complete Mozart Symphony cycle with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra—especially the last-made recordings of which are as good as it gets. In this fabulous little work Fischer and the Mozarteum Orchestra were long on spiritedness and a little bit shorter on ensemble-work, with panache and punch in the first movement, crisp timpani in the Andante, and a ripping Finale.

The matinee was performed twice—on Saturday, July 26th and Sunday, July 27th. I heard the Saturday performance which meant that the real finale was a sprint over from the Mozarteum’s Great Hall to the Festival plaza, near the cathedral, to still catch the baked chicken truck, whose obscenely delicious products are a near-mandatory tradition on a Salzburg Saturday mid-day. Johann Michael might have had them just like that, back when.


 Domine Deus (Gloria) from J.M.Haydn's Missa Sancti Francisci.

Performers unknown but presumably from the Hungaroton recording above.¶

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