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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Missa Solemnis
Carolyn Sampson (sop)
Marianne Beate Kielland (alto)
Thomas Walker (tenor)
David Wilson-Johnson (bass)
Capella Amsterdam
Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century/Daniel Reuss
rec. live, Utrecht (Tivoli/Vredenburg), Netherlands, October 2016
GLOSSA GCD921124 [75:03]

On the first page of the booklet note for this release, above all the technical credits, reads a small but important statement: “In memory of Frans Brüggen.”

Brüggen was the co-founder of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, and he made them a force to reckoned with in the world of historically informed performance. His death in 2014 must have touched them very personally and, while the booklet notes aren't specific, I wonder whether the concert, at which this disc was recorded, was also a special tribute to Brüggen? It is not difficult to read in this performance a particularly special tribute to the ensemble’s co-founder and guardian spirit, and the live nature of the occasion definitely helps, too.

That might account for the thoughtfulness and deep spiritual intensity that radiates from the performance. In fact, it is characterised by quiet majesty throughout. The opening Kyrie feels big and muscular, but never overblown, and it's telling that the voices of the soloists tend to grow out of the choral/orchestral texture rather than standing out in a declamatory way. Appropriately, Reuss directs the work as though he is searching for truth rather than giving out a proclamation from on high. “From the heart…”

The opening of the Gloria is as exhilarating as you could hope for. If anything, it's the chorus rather than the orchestra that really make the scalp prickle here, giving their all, while the brass and timps do their high octane stuff underneath. There is pain and unsettled intensity during the Qui tollis section before euphoria returns in the Quoniam, and the great fugue on In gloria Dei Patris has a marvellous swagger to it that is enormously winning. The intensity at the end is beyond doubt.

There is a straightforwardness to the opening of the Credo, and there is great weight at consubstantialem Patri. However, the change of mood at Et incarnatus est then conjures up one of the most profound, meditative sections of the whole recording, not just from the committed singers, but also from the flute solo, “almost absent-minded” as the booklet notes describes it. The cumulative effect of the fugue on Et vitam venturi is powerful and rousing, summoning great things from all the performers, and the final Amen hammers things home with unarguable authority.

The atmosphere of the opening of the Sanctus is reflective but pregnant with expectation which is rousingly fulfilled at Pleni sunt caeli sung only by the soloists. The Benedictus itself has a solo violin that is perhaps a little too thin for my taste but this is made up for by singing of inward commitment from the soloists.

The soloists are, indeed, very strong throughout. Carolyn Sampson and Marianne Beate Kielland sing with commitment and radiant beauty. Thomas Walker sounds inward and reflective, seldom rousing, but that's an aspect of Reuss’s vision. David Wilson-Johnson comes into his own for the angst-ridden, existential solo that opens the Angus Dei, sounding like a cross between Amfortas and Boris Godunov. Indeed, for the rest of the Agnus Dei the thing that stands out most is the orchestra’s delicate, whispery tone-painting, both alongside and beneath the words. Detail after detail kept being brought to my attention in ways I had never observed before, making the experience feel like a new process of discovery. The brass are particularly good at Dona nobis pacem, pointing up their lines with subtle skill.

In short, this is a Missa Solemnis that, for me, really taps into the spirituality of Beethoven’s vision. There is depth and insight in every movement, and the overall result is as moving as it is musically impressive. The live-ness, perhaps, sets it apart from other studio recordings, such as Gardiner’s first, and brings it closer to Herreweghe’s. In fact, even though it sounds very different, the recording it reminds me of the most is Levine’s on Deutsche Grammophon, which saw the Salzburg Festival bid farewell to Herbert von Karajan. Both that one and this bring a special commitment which lift this above the realm of ordinary music-making. In both cases the dedicatee would, I am sure, have been pleased with the result.

Simon Thompson

 



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