Magazine article Gramophone

Missa Solemnis

Magazine article Gramophone

Missa Solemnis

Article excerpt

Missa solemnis

Charlotte Margiono sop Catherine Robbin mez William Kendall ten Alastair Miles bass Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/ John Eliot Gardiner

Archiv Produktion (F) 429 779-2AH (72' * DDD) or in The John Eliot Gardiner Collection (DG)

We know that the Missa solemnis has moments of the utmost and loveliest serenity, others when a spirit of confidence reigns, when grandeur is proclaimed with harmonic simplicity, and assurance affirmed with measured tread. Yet it's the great whirls of sound, the divine scattering and striving, the straining of the soul to dance in freedom from all laws of time and formal conventions that ultimately characterize the work in our minds. Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for? Exactly: Beethoven seems to be reaching beyond human grasp, and one of Heaven's good works must surely be to give the Missa solemnis its ideal performance, liberated from all constraints of matter.

Well, it now appears we do not need to wait that long. With his expert choir of 36 and his orchestra of 60 (with original instruments), Gardiner, like Terje Kvam on Nimbus before him, sheds some of the weight of numbers usually employed; he also has a team of soloists without weaknesses, and, it must be added, his own genius for making all things new. Comparison between the two recordings hardly needs to go beyond the first entry of the choir, where Gardiner' s singers bring meaning and urgency to their cries of Kyrie which with Kvam's Oslo Cathedral Choir are scarcely more than formal statements.

Not that one would wish to follow this line of demonstration, for the performance under Kvam deserves something better than merely to serve as a foil. Still, the essential point has to be made, and one could go to the far end of the work for a further example and compare the control of tension in the Agnus Dei. With Gardiner the change of key to B flat, as drums and trumpets introduce the terrors of war, is chillingly sudden: the timpani are more precisely tuned, the acoustic is sharper, the timing more dramatic. And consequently the return to peace in the Dona nobis pacem with its 6/8 rhythm, banishes the grim horsemen of the Apocalypse and substitutes a joyful, even frisky canter over the Elysian fields. …

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