Haydn composed two large-scale sacred choral works dating from around 1766 early in his tenure with the Esterhazys: the Missa Cellensis, which Haydn revised in the late 1770s Haydn: Cacilienmesse (Missa Cellenis) and the Stabat Mater which also dates from 1766 -- 1767. I have been enjoying listening to and comparing these works in an 8-CD compilation of Haydn's masses Haydn: Complete Masses [Box Set] performed by the Trinity Choir and The REBEL Baroque Orchestra of Trinity Church on Wall Street conducted by J. Owen Burdick. The groups offer enthusiastic, lively period renditions of these scores which had previously been unfamiliar to me. The recording dates from 2003.
When I heard the Missa Cellensis, I was struck by the joyful, ceremonial, and almost dance like character of Haydn's setting and by the expansive nature of the work. I thought the tone of the work conveyed something important and valuable about Haydn's attitude towards religion. The nature of the medieval Stabat Mater poem, which describes Mary grieving and weeping at the Crucifixion, together with the CD liner notes, led me to expect that Haydn would provide a more somber treatment of this text. Haydn does so, but not in the way I expected.
The Stabat Mater is an angular work scored for strings, oboe, and organ. Thus it differs from the lavishly orchestrated Missa Cellensis which includes and uses extensively flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpet and tympani. The mass includes large, complex choruses and fugues, trumpet fanfares, and radiant lyrical solos. The sections of the Stabat Mater tend much more to the minor key and are slower in tempo. The setting is, to that degree, more solemn than the mass. However, there is nothing ponderous or morose in Haydn's music.
Haydn's Stabat Mater still impressed me as a serenely positive work which minimized the tragic, somber character of the text and the scene. There is a continued flow and lyricism to the music which honors the text but adds its own dimension. Although Haydn's setting was popular in his day, it was sometime criticized for not being sufficiently serious. The setting has an extroverted songlike character. In many places, especially in the extended pieces for solo voice, the work seemed to be operatic.
The setting is in twelve parts even though most recordings divide two sections for a total of 14 tracks. The orchestra and the four soloists predominate most of the time over the chorus. In this recording the soloists are drawn from the membership of the Trinity Choir. Soprano Ann Hoyt, alto Luthien Brackett, tenor Stephen Sands and bass Richard Lippold deserve credit for their performances. The work has several solos and ensemble pieces for bass in particular, and Lippold was a standout. The chorus gives a solemn rendition of the only section of the work in which it performs without soloists: the tragic "Eja Mater, fons amoris" at the mid point of the piece. The extended setting of "Sancta Mater, istud agas" features a four part, elaborate fugue for each of the four soloists and the chorus. The final section "Paradisi gloria" also is fugual and involves the entire ensemble, chorus and soloists. It brings the work to a triumphal, radiant close which may be in some tension with the text.
The performance on this CD is spirited. For me the Stabat Mater is a somewhat less effective work than the Missa Cellensis, which I thought an exhuberantly masterful, little-known work of early Haydn. The Stabat Mater will reward hearing even though the setting of the text is somewhat surprising. I am looking forward to listening to the rest of the Haydn masses performed by the Trinity Choir and the REBEL Baroque Orchestra.
Total time: 57:21