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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Mass in C major, Op. 86 (1807) [44:42]
Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72 (1806) [13:55]
Genia Kühmeier (soprano), Gerhild Romberger (alto), Maximilian Schmitt (tenor), Luca Pisaroni (bass-baritone)
Chor & Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks / Mariss Jansons
Latin texts with German translation only
rec. live: 11-12 January 2018, Philharmonie (Mass), 29-30 January 2004, Herkulessaal (Leonore), Munich, Germany
BR KLASSIK 900170 [58:37]

Mariss Jansons continues his series of albums as chief conductor of Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks with the Beethoven Mass in C major recorded in 2018. The CD includes a 2004 account of the Leonore Overture No. 3.

Beethoven wrote two significant settings of the Latin mass. In 1807, some sixteen years prior to his great Missa Solemnis, he completed his Mass in C major. In accordance with his custom, Prince Nikolaus II of Esterházy commissioned the work for the birthday of his wife Princess Maria Hermenegild. The score was introduced the same year privately at Eisenstadt. The public performance of sections of the score was given just over a year later in 1808 at a special concert featuring premieres of four major works including Fifth and Sixth Symphonies at Theater an der Wien. Biographer Marion M. Scott expressed the view that “the choral writing of the Mass in C is more feasible for singers than that of the Missa Solemnis, and the orchestration is beautiful”.

Jansons has selected an impressive quartet of soloists: soprano Genia Kühmeier, alto Gerhild Romberger, tenor Maximilian Schmitt and bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni. The quartet generally manage to keep their operatic sensibilities under wraps and concentrate on the reverential aspect of the text (not always the case in performances of this work). The Salzburg-born Kühmeier excels with her eagerly radiant and fluid tone. Romberger, a German, is in splendid form, too; her distinctive voice projects strongly with purity. Schmitt, also a German, shows clarity and precise enunciation; he is just a touch too operatic in tone for my taste but this does not detract much from the sense of piety. Venezuelan born and Italian bred Pisaroni has splendid control, captivating tone and impeccable diction, and is eminently respectful of the sacred text. Highlights include the uninhibited outbursts of praise of the Gloria loaded with sacred awe. I especially enjoyed the satisfying performance of Quoniam tu solus sanctus. To conclude the score, the Agnus Dei captures an atmosphere of spiritual serenity.

The world-class Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks led by Jansons embrace the sacred drama with relish, providing colour and effective tempi. The unified singing of the well prepared Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, hugely uplifting, is praiseworthy. The Mass has the benefit of satisfying sonics, clear and reasonably well balanced although just a touch close for my palate. Despite the quality of Jansons and his forces, I still hold a strong admiration for the powerful 1970 All Saints Church, Tooting account on EMI by Carlo Maria Giulini and New Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra with soloists Elly Ameling, Dame Janet Baker, Theo Altmeyer and Marius Rintzler.

The Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72 is the most successful of the three Leonore overtures. Beethoven conducted it for the newly revised two-act version of the opera Fidelio given at Theater an der Wien in 1806. Under Jansons, this is a characteristically lucid, well-balanced and buoyant performance, with pleasing sound quality. Nevertheless, it is hard to beat the drama of the 1965 Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin account by Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker on Deutsche Grammophon.
It is disappointing that the booklet provides the Latin text only with a German translation. Credit goes to Vera Baur for her first-class booklet essays. Overall, I admire these live Munich recordings for the unity of purpose: Jansons performances are characteristically lucid and buoyant with no shortage of drama.

Michael Cookson



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