Classical home listening: Haydn with Harry Christophers, and a new Welsh-language opera

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The Guardian

The Gloria from Haydn’s Theresienmesse (Mass in B flat, Hob XXII:12, 1799), with its exuberant choral writing, rushing string figures, trumpets and drums, is music to raise any spirits, is just one of the splendours of this expressive work. A new recording from the Handel and Haydn Society, conducted by Harry Christophers (Coro), with soloists Mary Bevan (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), Jeremy Budd (tenor) and Sumner Thompson (baritone), has all the vigour and risk you need from a live recording. Based in Boston, Massachusetts, “H+H”, now associated with historically informed performances, was founded in 1815 as an oratorio society and gave the US premieres of major choral works such as Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s The Creation.

As artistic director since 2008 and now conductor laureate, Harry Christophers – best known as director of his elite British choral group the Sixteen – has made more than a dozen albums with H+H. The other work here is Haydn’s London Symphony, No 103 “Drum Roll”, its second-movement double variations and horn-calls finale a display of the composer’s ingenuity, played with wit and grace.

Listening to operas in languages we may not speak is standard practice. One sung in Welsh, if more of a novelty for most of us, is no different. In a remarkable achievement, overcoming hurdles on the way, 2117/Hedd Wyn (Welsh National Opera/Tŷ Cerdd) – with music by Stephen McNeff and libretto by Gruff Rhys (Super Furry Animals) – has been recorded by the multiple forces of WNO’s youth opera, Only Boys Aloud and Only Boys Aloud Academi 2017, WNO orchestra and a strong lineup of eight soloists.

Gruff Rhys and Stephen McNeff. Photograph: Matthew Thistlewood

The title refers to the Welsh pastoral poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, known by his bardic name, Hedd Wyn. He was killed on the first day of the battle of Passchendaele in 1917, aged 30. In the plot, past present and future overlap (hence the 2117 in the title). Communities are destroyed by a nuclear disaster. The Welsh language itself is threatened with extinction. The piece romps along, full of changing moods and orchestral colour. McNeff’s lyrical gifts find affecting outlet, especially in the great choral set pieces and the harp-dominated ending.

The Voice of the Vibraphone is a three-part series presented by vibes player Corey Mwamba, exploring the underappreciated charms of the instrument since its early beginnings in the 1920s. It starts tomorrow night on Radio 3, 11pm/BBC Sounds.

September 3, 2022 at 05:07PM Fiona Maddocks

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