July 2005

Michael Haydn - Requiem; Missa In Honorem Sanctae Ursulae
Choir of the King’s Consort; The King’s Consort, Robert King, conductor
Hyperion CDA6751
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Bill Brooks

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Michael Haydn, the lesser recognized of the brothers Haydn, is perhaps best known for his Trumpet Concerto, considered standard repertoire for practicing soloists. Although not as prolific as his brother, Franz Josef, Michael was still responsible for more than 800 compositions, over 600 pieces being vocal in genre.

Haydn’s Requiem was composed as a reaction to the death of his patron, the Archbishop of Salzburg. Truth be told, Haydn probably drew just as much inspiration from the death of his infant daughter. The Archbishop was also the patron for a time of a wunderkind by the name of Mozart. That Mozart was greatly influenced by Haydn is without question, as he was a great friend of the family.

The performance by Robert King and both his Consort and Choir is outstanding. The tempos seem natural and flowing rather than pushed. The lack of hyped melodrama only adds to the feeling of genuine emotion. The singing is coherent and focused. Soloists Carolyn Sampson, Hilary Summers, James Gilchrist, and Peter Harvey turn in some very special singing. Of special note is the dark, burnished tone of contralto Hilary Summers. The contribution of the orchestra should not be dismissed. The majestic tone lent by the brass section greatly enhances the performance of the choir.

That said, the real gem on this disc is the relatively obscure Saint Ursula Mass, written for the veiling ceremony of a Bavarian convent. The choir leads the listener down a pathway sequestered from worldly existence, revealing something far more contemplative. The gorgeous solo by Sampson in the Benedictus is almost dreamlike.

The recording is a perfect balance of voices and venue. Highly recommended.