Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Boston Baroque makes memorable music on a tragically memorable occasion in its hometown's history

Martin Pearlman and his Boston Baroque launched their recording sessions for Haydn's "Lord
Nelson" Mass on the day of the Boston Marathon bombing.

Martin Pearlman leads Boston Baroque in Haydn.
A program note in the CD booklet (Linn Records) makes mention of that fact, and draws a link between the singers' and instrumentalists' work on the piece and that day's terrorist event. After all, the name the composer gave to the work was Missa in angustiis — "Mass in time of trouble or anxiety."

What Haydn alluded to was Napoleon's imperial ambition and its effect on the composer's beloved Vienna. An English military hero led forces that turned back the French forces' advance, thus providing the work with its nickname.

April 2013 doesn't necessarily hold more than an incidental place in the long history of troubling events. What else is history besides trouble? one sometimes wonders. But the understanding and commitment of the performing forces here communicate a keenly felt connection to a long-ago conflict (1798) and the English-led breakthrough that checked Napoleon's onslaught, underscoring the work's triumphant moments.

Pearlman has his chorus and orchestra give irrefutable oomph to the opening Kyrie, in which soprano soloist Mary Wilson answers smartly to her role's coloratura demands. The well-judged balance of the choir immediately establishes itself. When called upon, all sections can produce a robustness befitting the text's intensity.

The devout Haydn must have wanted to reassure the Almighty of His people's devotion, as if to imply a "You owe us!" insistence on an allied victory over the little Corsican.

All the soloists (besides Wilson: alto Abigail Fischer, tenor Keith Jameson, and bass Kevin Deas) come through with solidly sustained phrasing and fervor in Gloria and Qui tollis peccata mundi. But it is also worth mentioning how capably the massed singers express, as if individually, the liturgy's changing moods, especially during the inherent drama of Credo.

In times of great difficulty, it can be difficult for even the most faithful to be certain of blessedness. How suitable, then, that in the Benedictus ("Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord"), the authority of him who comes is stressed over the perhaps doubtful power of blessedness.

Finally, the solo quartet displays a cherishable blend in Agnus Dei, and the choir trenchantly recalls the commanding tone of its first utterances in the finale, Dona nobis pacem (consistently rendered Donna in the printed material).

The disc is filled  out with a broadly substantial yet sufficiently aerated account of Symphony No. 102 in B-flat. The late mastery of Haydn is celebrated superbly throughout, from the first movement's brooding Largo introduction on.

The Adagio's sustained calm  —  a mood that  Missa in angustiis understandably can't afford to indulge — is remarkable, with its deft linking of winds (absent in the Mass, except for trumpets) and strings. The rollicking Minuet movement that follows yields to a brilliantly light-footed Presto finale.