Neither Haydn’s Stabat Mater nor Les Solistes de Paris have appeared in the record catalogues much, so in some ways this is a most welcome disc. Les Solistes de Paris were formed by Henri-Claude Fantapie in 1964 and seems to have stopped functioning as a playing ensemble in the 1980s.
Haydn’s Stabat Mater was composed in 1767, for Haydn’s own forces in Eisenstadt. The work uses an orchestra of strings, oboes and organ. It was evidently praised by Hasse, a composer of an earlier generation who had a lot of influence on Haydn. Haydn seems to have taken a lot of care over the piece; after all it had to compete with the better known Pergolesi setting. The Stabat Mater has a superbly crafted atmosphere, which reflects the darkness and sobriety of the text. In this respect it is unlike Pergolesi’s setting which sometimes reflects Pergolesi’s operatic background. Haydn uses his solo voices with assurance and mixes arias with choral numbers and ensembles. The result is long but profoundly satisfying and it is curious that there are not more recordings in the catalogue.
This recording was made in 1978 and when it comes to the orchestral contribution, the group reflects changes in performance style. They do not use period performance practice, but the sound is crisp and lithe. Tempi are kept moving and the overall sound is slim and not overblown. The Chorale Philippe Caillard make an equally strong contribution.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the soloists. None are completely adequate to the task but Claudia Eder’s dark mezzo, Axel Reichardt’s light, lyric tenor and Jurg Krattinger’s baritone all made something of a contribution to the proceedings. None is entirely comfortable in the more complex passagework which Haydn requires of them. But it is soprano Anna-Maria Bondi who really lets things down. Her tone is attractive and plangent but she constantly smudges her runs.
The other choral work on the discs is Haydn’s Libera Me . This work was only discovered in the 1960s and may have been written for the death of Princess Marie Elizabeth Esterhazy in 1790. The autograph no longer survives, but the original performing material does. It is a short but charming work and receives a decent performance here.
The other accompanying works come from a recording made in 1964. Symphony no. 44 dates from Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period and has the subtitle, Trauersinfonie. It is a fine piece, but this performance does not really do it justice. It sports some notable wind playing and the horns relish the new opportunities which Haydn gives them. But in too many places the string playing is just too untidy, particularly in the underlying parts. Perhaps this would have been acceptable in an historic performance, but in the Adagio problems of tuning render this account completely out of court.
The concerto dates from an earlier period than the symphony and is far less assured and less daring. It is charming and lively and the recording suffers from fewer of the problems that occur in the symphony. Unfortunately the balance is entirely out of kilter with the harpsichord which is permanently at a notch or two of loudness less then everyone else. When it plays alone with the orchestra, the balance is just about bearable but when the violin joins in it dominates in a way which is unsatisfactory.
This historic disc will probably interest those who are curious about the recorded history of this French ensemble, or who want to hear historic accounts of these important Haydn works. But for the general listener the recording probably has too many problems for it to be completely recommendable.
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