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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Missa Solemnis Op 123 [79:57]
Helen Donath (soprano); Doris Soffel (mezzo); Siegfried Jerusalem (tenor); Hans Sotin (bass)
Edinburgh Festival Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
rec. live, Royal Albert Hall, London, 10 September 1982
text and English translation included

There are some musical masterpieces whose essential character is such that a routine, a comfortable or even a generally satisfactory performance is a contradiction of that character. The Missa Solemnis is certainly one of those works. The sense of the composer striving to glimpse the reality behind the words of the Mass must be conveyed to the listener if his vision is to be shared with the listener.

The present performance was given at a Prom in September 1982 at the start of the conductor's final season as Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It is not however their contribution to this performance that is the memorable aspect of this disc; it is that of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. The fervour and accuracy with which they sing - hurl even, when necessary - the composer's often awkward and unexpected lines at the audience is astonishing. The several much smaller professional choirs who have recorded the work have inevitably equalled and even bettered their accuracy but there is something very special about the sound of a choir of this size in this work that I find remarkably appropriate and moving. Their chorus master, John Currie, deserves a more prominent billing than he receives here for his work in ensuring such a dramatic performance. At the start of the Credo the repetitions of the word convey vividly the desperation of a community determined, willing themselves even, to believe.

Unfortunately the same degree of fervour and conviction is not achieved by the soloists, who are never less than adequate but seldom more. There is a surprising lack of individuality, perhaps due to the need to project to the farthest parts of the Albert Hall. The orchestra play well. Ronald Thomas's violin solo in the Benedictus has the right consolatory tone but the wonderful moment when the first flute appears to personify the Holy Spirit in the Et incarnatus goes for little, mainly due to the recorded balance. It may indeed be that the somewhat matter of fact character of much of the performance is more due to the BBC sound engineers' difficulties with the acoustic of the Hall than to any lack of imagination on the part of the performers. Although I would undoubtedly have loved to have been in the audience for this performance I regret that what is heard here on disc, apart from the astonishing conviction of the singing of the chorus, is not as memorable as might have been expected from performers of this distinction.

John Sheppard

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