| Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Missa Solemnis Op.123
Amanda Halgrimson (soprano)
Cornelia Kallish (contralto)
John Aler (tenor)
Alastair Miles (bass)
NDR Chorus, SWR Vokalensemble,
SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra of Stuttgart/Sir Roger Norrington.
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 93.006 [72.58]
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Beethoven conducted by Norrington. What more can a mortal ask?
I have loved this work all my life but this performance raises this glorious work to the highest plane; a position that will never be equalled let alone beaten.
Beethoven had an ambivalent attitude to Roman Catholicism but in this incredible Mass he takes great pains to compose a work of great spirituality. He is not in a hurry. He does not adopt the view that anything will do. This work is not a chore but a labour of love and deeply personal. The final Agnus Dei lasts about 13 minutes for 30 words and he introduces trumpet fanfares, fugal writing and a combination of intellectualism and rich emotionalism. It is so individual for a section advocating peace with God.
But Beethoven did not want to copy anything that had gone before. This is his individual Mass, almost a personal quest. It has a dignity bereft of self-importance and a spiritual power captured to perfection in this superlative performance. The sound and the balance is exemplary and Norrington injects a tremendous vitality so the work is never bogged down by a slowness that some equate with reverence. The opening of the Gloria is quite stunning. The singing is immaculate with wonderful top choral soprano notes, penetrating high tenor notes and a clarity that is so good that it defies description. The soloists are excellent and blend exceptionally well. The ensemble singing is a delight. While the performance is highly polished it is not clinical. It has a spiritual power of amazing proportions. I had to pause the work at the end of the Gloria and the emotional content was so great it was exhausting but profoundly satisfying and deeply moving - a tremendous experience. The sheer energy and vitality of this music is too good. But in the restful passages Norrington is equally good and he does not drag the music or make it anaemic.
The Credo rocks with excitement; a wonderful affirmation of belief. It is true that great music, such as this, is beyond words and beyond praise. Linguistics are inadequate to describe not only the music but the performance which is remarkable and epoch-making.
There is a curious warm romanticism in the Sanctus and Benedictus in which an orchestral interlude sounds like a church organ and there is an extended violin solo of exquisite beauty, a beauty that is so good it is unbearable, however paradoxical that sounds.
The Agnus Dei is also remarkable. One can understand Beethoven writing on the manuscript, "This music is from the heart. May it therefore go to the heart." It goes to the heart alright and Beethoven had a heart and a good one too!
Christian Darnton in his book You and Music asks whether music is intellectual or emotional. Some music is merely emotional and does not last. It may just be a pretty tune or a Viennese bonbon. Some music is intellectual and leaves most people bewildered particularly those people who do not understand the mechanics of music. But, of course, good music must be both intellectual and emotional. It must appeal to both the brain and the heart. And I would suggest that all music has these two features because all music evokes a response in us because it engenders feeling whether good or bad, whether informed or prejudiced.
Not all the music in this Mass is of the same quality. That is a problem you will always have with lengthy works.
And why does the accompanying booklet refer to the text as a libretto?
But what this performance has is a quality so rare, so spiritual, so profoundly moving. It is like a book that you simply cannot put down. And, as usual, there is that extra ingredient that Norrington brings to his performances, that indefinable quality that breathes new life into music. I end with one of his famous quotes, "Music must never be pompous." He is absolutely right!
This is a must buy! It really is!
See also review by Terry Barfoot
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