The American Boychoir - Mass and Vespers for the Feast of Holy Innocents - Fanfare

The Michael Haydn album on Linn is very successful, and satisfies my need to hear the choir in a sustained "serious" program. In the Middle Ages in Europe, December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, became the day the church celebrated childhood. The tradition grew up that Mass would be celebrated that day by children (i.e., boys), complete with a boy bishop. And this is what you get here. The setting of the Mass by this Haydn, brother of Franz Josef, dates from 1805, somewhat after the Middle Ages, of course, demonstrating the persistence of the tradition. I was delighted that, in addition to the Mass ordinary and Vespers settings, the performance interpolates into the Mass the propers of the day sung to plainchant, and the Vespers include plainchant antiphons. The offertory and voluntary in the Mass are instrumental church sonatas by Mozart (K 245 and 274), and the whole show runs to 77 minutes. The point, of course, is that Michael Haydn wrote for boys, not adults, and this results in a completely convincing portrayal of the music by the choir. It is not as if one is marveling at children singing grown-ups' music. At no point does the composer write down to the performers and, as a result, ironically, one loses touch with the fact that one is listening to children. In the opening Introit, the boys' unaccompanied plainchant is top-notch, Linn providing just the right acoustic so that one almost regrets the intervention of the New York Collegium for the Kyrie. But not for long; the interplay of the orchestra and choir is beautifully captured, both by the engineers and the conductor, and the reading of the whole work is invariably judicious. The orchestra (two horns, organ, and strings, 4/4/0/2/1) is crisp and accompanies assertively, and the choir of 2000 is a match for its current colleagues

01 November 2011