Michael Haydn Choral Works hold their own

Let’s be clear. Michael Haydn was not a bad composer. He was a very good one. Just not as great as his brother, Franz Joseph. But even Franz Joseph thought Michael was the better choral composer of the two.

This album helps make that case with a set of unusual works. All three compositions are for upper register voices. In some cases, these may have been boys instead of female singers. For this recording, it’s the St. Albans Cathedral Girls Choir.

I’ve heard enough female choir pieces by second and third-tier composers to understand the challenge. How do you provide contrast and variety when all the voices are clumped together?

Haydn had the answers. His choruses have a full sound, expanding out to the extremes of the registers. And without male voices, these choruses have an ethereal quality as well. He also uses soprano and mezzo-soprano solo voices effectively. They provide a clear contrast with the choral accompaniment.

The result is an album of engagingly beautiful choral works. Director Tom Winpenny keeps the music moving along. In some cases giving rapid passages a dance-like quality.

I think brother Franz may have a point. Based on this release, I’m now curious to hear more of Michael Haydn’s sacred compositions.

Michael Haydn: Missa Sancti Nicolai Tabentini
Vesperae Pro Festo Sancti Innocentium, Anima Nostra
Jenni Harper, Emily Owen, sopranos; Helen Charlston, mezzo-soprano
Marko Sever, organ
St. Albans Cathedral Girls Choir; Lawes Baroque Players; Tom Winpenny, conductor
Naxos 8.574163

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