The Pope's tribute
to Beethoven that precedes this live
account of the Missa solemnis
is an eloquent one. Yet the performance
that follows is merely good. Under the
conductorship of Gilbert Levine, the
LPC and the RPO give an account that
rarely projects the work's true nature.
The Missa solemnis is a huge
work - four of its five movements last
in excess of a quarter of an hour -
and it demands a huge interpretation.
Not necessarily one of massed forces;
‘huge’ rather in the sense that it reflects
the momentous issues it addresses.
The physical setting
could hardly be better. Of course the
cameras are going to pass around Cologne's
magnificent cathedral – what better
backdrop could there be? Of course the
vast space of this Cathedral will cause
blurring of textures, and that does
indeed prove to be the case, although
possibly less frequently than one might
expect. The occasion was however auspicious
as this recording was taken down from
the XX World Youth Day, 2005. We are
told that Sir Gilbert Levine was awarded
Knight Commander of St Gregory for his
efforts to reconcile the World's religions
(now there's a worthy cause!).
The soloists were obviously
carefully picked. The soprano, Bozena
Harasimowicz, has a wonderfully pure
voice that suits the pious nature of
the work perfectly. But right from the
start one becomes aware that Gilbert
does not quite have the measure of the
work. Parts appear rushed in a way that
would be anathema to the work's greatest
interpreters. My favoured conductors
are Bernstein – DG – and Giulini, the
latter of which I heard conduct the
Missa at London's RFH many years ago.
If the Gloria blazes
to a certain extent, it is marred by
weak tenors; not exactly together, either.
This long movement needs a conductor
possessed of the highest structural
hearing, and Levine alas is not that
conductor. The great arrival at 'Pater
omnipotens' works only quite well, being
purely dynamic-led. Some fanciful camera-work
as the counterpoint progresses will
I am sure please some - stained-glass
windows - better is the long-shot from
the back of the cathedral towards the
That cathedral acoustic
does lead to a blunting of choir/solo
woodwind juxtapositions in the Credo,
but it is not as disturbing as the strained
tenors (again) at the 'Et resurrexit'.
Gratuitous shots of figurines dotted
around the Cathedral were, to this reviewer,
frankly irritating. Yet it is the Sanctus,
that movement that can be of sublime
bliss, that things get really stilted.
If bass soloist Franz-Josef
Selig comes into his own in the Agnus
Dei (nicely focused), and the trumpets
and drums section comes off well, it
is not really enough to rescue the performance.
The longish silence that greets the
work's close – this is the cynic in
me – seems to be less rapt stillness
than an audience who were not sure the
piece had actually finished.
Maybe not ... but I
remain sure this changed no-one's life.
The choral contributions are fine -
except for the rather lightweight tenors
- and the orchestra is also fine. But
this is the Missa solemnis