- Commentary from Robert Nairn
Harry Christophers is best known as the founder and conductor of the Sixteen vocal ensemble and its orchestra, but he began conducting the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society in 2006 and was named its artistic director beginning in its 2009-2010 season. Christophers brings to the group the same qualities that made the Sixteen such a success: attention to the details informed period performance practice, thoughtful musicianship animated by a passionate intensity, and the ability to inspire a sumptuous, enveloping choral blend. On this recording, the chorus of the Handel and Haydn Society (the oldest continuously performing organization in the U.S., founded in 1815) is moderate in size, with 36 members, so it's large enough to produce a full, warm sound and small enough to negotiate the music's coloratura requirements with clean agility. Those two characteristics stand out in their performance of the Mozart "Requiem." The chorus sings with clarity and precision, with a rich, rounded tone. The opulence of the sound is perhaps heard most fully in the motet "Ave verum corpus," which opens the CD. The soloists in the "Requiem" collaborate beautifully as an ensemble and sing individually with distinction. The album closes with a rarity, a performance of the bass aria "Per questa bella mano," featuring Eric Owens, with a prominent, outrageously demanding double bass obbligato. It's a lovely, engaging piece that's on a par with the music of the composer's late operas. Bassist Robert Nairn plays with fleetness and panache, but the balance of the recording foregrounds the bass somewhat unnaturally. Otherwise the sound of the live 2011 performance is clean and well-balanced.