A Haydn Mass & A Schubert Symphony

Mass in B flat (Heiligmesse)
Symphony No.9 in C (Great)

Lucy Crowe (soprano)
Alexandra Sherman (mezzo-soprano)
James Edwards (tenor)
Matthew Rose (bass)

BBC Singers

BBC Philharmonic
Gianandrea Noseda

Reviewed by: Erwin Hösi

Reviewed: 30 July, 2006
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

A concert completely at home in the Royal Albert Hall, Haydn’s great “Missa Sancti Bernardi con Offida”, better known as “Heiligmesse”, filling the first half and Schubert’s vast C major symphony, which has with equal justification being numbered 7, 8, or 9, to close the evening. There was just enough of the grandeur, the epic proportions and aesthetic preference for the well-tried to add up to a rewarding Prom.

A audience, made up of a moderate number of people, witnessed an excellent performance in which the artistry of the performers made up for both pieces’ seeming avoidance of coming to the point – a reference more to parts of Schubert’s symphony than to Haydn’s concise mass.

Haydn’s “Heiligmesse”, completed in 1796, presented the composer’s mature idiom, betraying both Handel’s influence as well as the grandeur of a truly Classical composer. The movements offer a wide expressive range from the solemn opening of the ‘Kyrie’, via the march-like opening of the ‘Credo’ and the almost Beethoven-like idyll of the ‘Benedictus’ to the affirmatively romping ‘Dona nobis pacem’. The BBC Singers’ immaculate diction, dynamic range and expressiveness convinced from the beginning, while a constant vibrato recalled choral performances of previous decades. All the soloists revealed pleasant voices.

The winning side was the orchestra, however, with a wonderful sense for colour and dynamics; particularly persuasive were the clear and faultlessly brilliant brass section and the swift and smooth-sounding strings. Gianandrea Noseda was hugely involved, as his sportive and at times even wild gesturing showed, and brought the best out of the musicians. If his tempos for Schubert’s ‘Great’ were at times a bit on the quick side, they also provided a sense of coherence.

Schubert’s ‘Great’ C major symphony was the piece that initiated the Schubert rediscovery through Schumann in 1839; from today’s point of view it may appear to be somewhat lengthy; and, here Noseda observed all repeats save the one in the finale. Nevertheless, it provided the opportunity to hear the excellent BBC Philharmonic on its own responding adroitly to Noseda’s forward-moving interpretation. Even the exceptionally long scherzo appeared to be too short.

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