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Johann Adolf HASSE (1699-1783)
Mass for 4 solo voices, choir and orchestra in d minor* (1751) [34:08]
Miserere for 4 voices, choir and orchestra in c minor** (c1730, second version) [21:39]
Mária Zádori (soprano), Lena Susanne Norin (contralto)*, Kai Wessel (alto)**, Wilfried Jochens**, Hans Jörg Mammel* (tenor), Klaus Mertens*, Stephan Schreckenberger** (bass)
Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
rec. April 1993**, April 1995*, Zeughaus in Neuss, Germany. DDD
CAPRICCIO C 5125 [55:47]

Johann Adolf Hasse was the most famous and most fashionable composer of his time. His career was largely dominated by the musical stage. From the 1720s until the 1760s he produced a large number of operas which were performed in the main theatres of Germany and Italy. He was born near Hamburg and started his career as a tenor in the Hamburg opera. In his capacity as a composer he was especially praised for his ability to adapt his music to the voices of particular singers. One of these was Faustina Bordoni, whom he married in 1730 and who sang in most of his operas which he was able to compose at great speed. The work-list in New Grove lists some 60 operas. Moreover he wrote a large number of serenatas, oratorios, numerous cantatas and also many sacred works. Charles Burney summed up his status rather well: he described him as "the most skilful and elegant of all the composers of his time".
The two pieces on this disc were both written for Dresden. That is to say, the Miserere was originally composed for Venice around 1730; the tutti were scored for two sopranos and two altos which is an indication that it was to be performed in one of the ospedali, in which girls and young women received a musical education. In his early years Hasse spent much of his time in Italy. In 1733 he was appointed Kapellmeister of the Dresden court and during the next decade he divided his time between Dresden and Venice. It is likely that the Miserere was adapted for performances in Dresden with a more common SATB scoring. There is no fundamental difference between Hasse's operatic and sacred output. Bel canto is the most prominent feature in all his vocal music, and the solo parts in the two works on this disc bear witness to this. The elegance which Burney ascribed to him comes particularly to the fore in the instrumental parts.
In my experience it isn't always easy to get used to Hasse's art of writing sacred music. Sometimes one feels a clash between the text and the music, for instance in the short solo for the bass, 'Tibi soli peccavi' in the Miserere. It is rather odd to hear a truly operatic aria on a text like this: "Against thee only have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou art judge". The 'Gloria Patri' is a solo for alto, and ends with a cadenza on "Sancto". There are certainly moments of true expression, though; for instance the solo sections in 'Ecce enim in iniquitatibus', first for soprano and alto and then for alto and tenor.
In the Mass in d minor the Christe eleison is - as in so many mass settings of the 18th century - a duet, here for soprano and alto, a piece of great beauty. In this work we also find reminiscences of the past, such as the intonation on the plainchant melody at the beginning of the Credo. There are several fugal sections, such as the second Kyrie. In the 'Crucifixus' Hasse seizes the opportunity to add expressive emphasis to the text with some incisive dissonants. The Gloria, on the other hand, includes two operatic arias, 'Domine Deus' for soprano and 'Qui tollis' for tenor, the latter with interventions by the choir.
The booklet omits the lyrics. Fortunately these are widely known and can easily be found on the internet or in the booklets of other discs. Moreover, one of the features of the Rheinische Kantorei is its excellent delivery. Its director, Hermann Max, pays much attention to this aspect. As a result it is pretty easy to understand the text, even in tutti sections with full orchestra. Max has a good ear in selecting the soloists for his performances and recordings, and that is also the case here. Mária Zádori has frequently worked with him and knows what to do. In some other recordings of hers a wobble creeps in, but that is not the case here. The other singers are all stylish; Kai Wessel is particularly good in the 'Gloria Patri' from the Miserere. The basses have little to do; in these pieces the high voices are the most important. That links them to the opera of the time in which the sopranos and altos absolutely dominated.
This disc delivers a good picture of Hasse as a composer of religious music.

Johan van Veen