Haydn: Nelson Mass. Willcocks

Review by: ClassicsToday

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

When these recordings first came out, far in advance of the period instrument revolution, they were revelations. Though modern instruments were used, there was an effort to get performance practices right, especially in the Handel and Vivaldi. And there was the incredibly powerful, absolutely heavenly sound of that chorus of men and boys, as well as the lifelike recordings that perfectly captured the vast space of the Chapel of King’s College. Since that time there have been other performances that depict the letter of each work to a greater degree than these, but many listeners will argue that there are none that have better encapsulated the spirit of this music. Though reference recordings of the Haydn and Vivaldi are listed, I have to admit that there are no readings that I like better than these. The opening of the Haydn, with Sylvia Stahlman soaring to the heights in the best performance of her short-lived career, is one of the more powerful moments in the history of recorded choral music, and this version of the Handel anthem still stands as the best recording of that work. Stahlman is not alone, as Elizabeth Vaughan, Dame Janet Baker, Helen Watts, Wilfred Brown, and Tom Krause all have many moments of vocal glory. These are star-studded “great singing” recordings in which the artists will be remembered as much as the music itself.

Were I producing the Legends series, all four of the Handel anthems would have been coupled with the Vivaldi and its magnificent original LP-mate, the Pergolesi Magnificat, saving the Haydn for a different pairing. So many great performances, and only 80 minutes to fit them in! Why not issue double-CD Legends?! (Incidentally, all four of the Handel Coronation anthems have been released on a Double Decca, which might still be available as you read this.)

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Handel: this one, Haydn: Weil (Sony), Vivaldi: PInnock (Archiv)


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