August 2004

Hummel - Te Deum; Missa Solemnis in C
Patricia Wright, soprano; Zan McKendree-Wright, alto; Patrick Power, tenor; David Griffiths, bass; TOWER Voices New Zealand; New Zealand Symphony, Uwe Grodd, conductor
Naxos 8.557572
Released: 2003

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

Johann Nepomuk Hummel became Kapellmeister at the Esterházy court when Haydn left the position in 1804. Or, he became so in part, as it actually took three people to fill Haydn’s talented shoes. Johann Nepomuk Fuchs and Luigi Tomasini shared Haydn’s former duties with Hummel. Hummel is best known to audiences today as composer of a brilliant trumpet concerto found in the repertory of many virtuoso trumpet soloists.

Hummel’s employer, Prince Nicolaus II Esterházy, was not interested in music in general but did enjoy church music. He started a tradition whereby a new mass would be composed each year and performed on the name day of his wife. Haydn’s six great masses and Beethoven’s Mass in C were composed for those happy birthday tributes. Hummel had the task of writing the works from 1804 and 1808. His Missa Solemnnis in C was highly regarded, so much so that Beethoven’s mass, which followed shortly after, was regarded a failure by comparison.

Hummel’s writing is bright and bold, with inventive use of harmony and counterpoint. His orchestration is very colorful. The middle section of the Kyrie is scored only for winds and the composer was not afraid to let the chorus strike out on its own from time to time. Hummel’s scoring is, in a word, dramatic. The Te Deum was composed shortly before the mass and is a brief and brilliant work with bright orchestration, including trumpets and timpani.

Uwe Grodd leads performances of great brilliance and conviction. Every accent seems just right, each tempo exactly correct. He is able to elicit the best singing and playing from his talented performers. The recorded sound is bright and chipper, a little lacking in bass, and without ultimate presence. Perhaps it is just a little more distant than I prefer, though stereo separation is good without becoming exaggerated.

I have been looking for an opportunity to thank Naxos for presenting rarely heard compositions by both famous and little known composers at affordable prices. These projects allows listeners to hear these pieces and decide for themselves whether they are unjustly neglected or not. In this case, I think the jury will agree that these masterpieces ought to be heard often.