Beethoven: Missa solemnis
This is exceptional. There are certainly many different valid ways to perform the Missa solemnis, but it’s hard to imagine they will surpass this outstanding version. Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s approach is a little broader than recent fashion, but there is never a moment where the tempo feels sluggish or, for that matter, hurried. Rather, he allows the music to unfold and breathe, with a palpable sense that, for all the debates about the nature of Beethoven’s belief, this is a work of faith. For all their generic familiarity, the words have meaning.
To pick one among myriad moments, the genuine tender hush during the ‘Et incarnatus est’ of the ‘Credo’ is spine-tingling, only for the warm glow to drain in the ‘Crucifixus’. After this, the refulgent joy of the ‘Et Resurrexit’ conveys an awe that goes beyond the usual passing fireworks. Whether in the Gloria or the Sanctus, the praise and beauty is within the context of being hard-won, Harnoncourt never being afraid of the grit in Beethoven’s oyster.
The Royal Concertgebouw is on absolutely top form, Harnoncourt extracting the essence of a historically informed sound from their (mostly) modern instruments, while the Netherlands Radio Choir sings with conviction in matching his every dynamic nuance. As for the soloists, it is hard to recall a Solemnis quartet who blend so well while retaining their mesmeric individuality.