It’s good to see William Steinberg’s name receiving recognition
once again. Only recently Dan Morgan was loud in his praises
of his Boston recordings of The Planets and Also Sprach
Zarathustra (review) while EMI has just issued a box of 20 CDs, restoring
to the catalogue many of the recordings that he made, principally
for Capitol while he was Music Director in Pittsburgh between
1952 and 1976. (EMI Icon 0264862). ICA Classics have been playing
their part also and this present Beethoven performance is one
of several Steinberg issues from this source. This is the first
that I’ve heard but it’s a welcome issue because the reading
of Missa solemnis is far from negligible.
Steinberg impresses by keeping a firm hand on the tiller. Almost
without exception I thought his tempi were judiciously chosen.
Perhaps the opening of the Credo is a little on the steady side
but I suspect the reason is that Steinberg realises there’s
a long way to go in this movement - don’t peak too soon - perhaps
he also has his eye on the place, later on, where the Credo
theme reappears alongside other parts of the text. If the tempo
is too fast there’s a danger that the choir’s words will sound
gabbled whereas at Steinberg’s pace enunciation is no problem.
There’s strength and energy in this reading of the Missa
solemnis. One also has the feeling that Steinberg has an
excellent conception of the architecture of the work.
His choir is good. Beethoven makes the most unreasonable demands
on the chorus, the sopranos especially, yet the German singers
never flinch and I admired the tenors who produce strong, incisive
singing yet never force the tone, even in the most strenuous
passages. Their colleagues in the orchestra, more familiar to
us nowadays as the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln, also serve Steinberg
The solo team is a very good one. Anchoring it is Peter Meven
(1929-2003), a firm and sonorous bass. He’s very impressive
in the Agnus Dei, to which he brings suitable gravitas, and
his work throughout is strong and reliable. I can’t recall previously
hearing Sven Olof Eliasson (b. 1933) but the Swedish tenor is
well suited to this role. He has a fine ring to his voice and
his tone is consistently clear and true. With him ‘Et homo factus
est’ is a splendid, confident proclamation and elsewhere in
the work his contribution is similarly good. The ladies are
better known. The Hungarian, Julia Hamari was thirty when this
recording took place and so at an earlier stage in her career
than her three colleagues; vocally, she was just entering her
prime. Her voice is rich and full, though not in the least plummy
- the sound is well focused - and she’s in fine form for Steinberg.
However, the listener’s ear and attention is caught above all
by Heather Harper. Her pristine voice, and especially the gleaming
top register, is ideally suited to this work and hers is a commanding
In fact, this is a recording about which not a lot need be
said. The Missa solemnis is a peak - and a challenging
peak - of the choral repertoire. Steinberg leads a fine reading,
showing the value of having a wise, experienced conductor at
the helm in such a demanding score. I admired and enjoyed the
performance and I’m sure I shall return to it in the future.
I hope ICA has access to more Steinberg material of this quality.
The sound is good. I don’t know if an audience was present during
this performance; I couldn’t hear any extraneous noise and there’s
no applause at the end.
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