Home listening: heavenly Haydn, and a good week for Farinelli

An exemplary recording of the Missa Cellensis; Ann Hallenberg channels the great castrato; and in praise of Opera on 3

• I love Haydn’s masses. They speak of an unusual state of contentment between the artist and the Almighty: an early biographer of the composer said that the goodness of divine nature “inspired him with such confidence and joy that he could have written even a Miserere in tempo allegro”. The late mass settings have quasi-symphonic proportions, while the finest of the earlier masses (1782) is the huge Missa Cellensis “in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary”, also called the Mariazeller Mass. This receives a glorious new recording from the RIAS Kammerchor and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin under Justin Doyle (Harmonia Mundi).

From its hushed slow choral opening, through some buoyant fugues and angular chromaticisms, Haydn traces a spiritual journey with great exuberance – notably in the flamboyant roulades of the soprano arias, well dispatched by Johanna Winkel. The chamber choir of German broadcaster RIAS has kept up with the times and produces beautifully cool, clean-edged textures, which Doyle moulds with skill.

Watch a trailer for The Farinelli Manuscript.

• The castrato Farinelli (Carlo Broschi 1705-82) died in the year of that Haydn mass; he is a figure of continual fascination, from Clare van Kampen’s 2015 play Farinelli and the King to a lavish new survey by the mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. A more scholarly homage is paid in The Farinelli Manuscript (Glossa), in which the fine Swedish mezzo Ann Hallenberg recreates the exact contents of a manuscript Farinelli sent to the Empress Maria Theresa. The performances are excellent, and there is great interest in the decorations and embellishments notated by the singer himself as a guide to the style of the times. I just wish the arias themselves, by nonentities such as Mele, Giacomelli and Latilla, had been more compelling.

Opera on Radio 3 flourishes, especially through a happy alliance with the Metropolitan Opera in New York (via the European Broadcasting Union, an ideal of cooperative action we must hope not to lose in the future). Philip Glass’s hypnotic Akhnaten, a rare sell-out success for the Met, is on BBC Sounds, and last night’s offering was Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades.

Contributor

Nicholas Kenyon

The GuardianTramp

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