Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Missa Solemnis
PERFORMER: Cheryl Studer, Jessye Norman, Plácido Domingo, Kurt Moll/ Leipzig Radio Chorus/VPO/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 435 770-2 DDD
Live from the 1991 Salzburg Festival, this performance presents a weighty, traditional view of Beethoven’s choral masterpiece, replete with operatic megastars. The illustrious four, however, scarcely represent a well-blended quartet. Kurt Moll is solid enough, and Jessye Norman well-suited to the alto part she here essays – if curiously self-effacing. But Domingo sounds tense and Cheryl Studer can’t quite match the others in the sheer scale of her singing.

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The Vienna Philharmonic makes a thick Christmas-pudding-and-double-cream sound, whose richness the recording well captures, and the massed choirs, though a shade coarse in tone and inclined to be smudgy at fast tempi, are generally firm. The momentum of the piece is apt to sag, taking on a ponderous quality more than once. Levine begins energetically (one might say brashly) enough, but torpor sets in before very long. The ‘Et vitam venturi’ fugue lumbers along like an arthritic hedgehog.

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This recording does nothing to counter the impression that period-instrument groups now have a clear advantage in separating out Beethoven’s admittedly tricky choral/orchestral textures. Together with the live performance virtues of immediacy and cohesion (both in evidence here) minor deficiencies of ensemble and accuracy are apparent, though not endemic. George Hall