Beethoven: Missa Solemnis; Choral Fantasy

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Missa Solemnis; Choral Fantasy
PERFORMER: Luba Orgonasova (soprano), Jadwiga Rappé (alto), Uwe Heilmann (tenor), Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass), Gerhard Oppitz (piano)Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 60967 2 DDD
At a time when such things are, sadly, unfashionable, Colin Davis offers an intensely personal vision of Beethoven’s choral masterpiece. It is one that I found deeply affecting. True, much of the work unfolds at an unusually slow pace – the ‘Qui tollis’ and the Sanctus, for instance, or the wonderful instrumental prelude that precedes the Benedictus – but the music can certainly stand such an approach. Nor does Davis fail to generate excitement where appropriate: the opening bars of the Gloria, with horns ringing out triumphantly, are thrillingly handled; and I have never heard the stabbing dissonances of the ‘Crucifixus’ so vividly conveyed: one can almost hear the nails being driven in. Perhaps the alto soloist lacks the last ounce of intensity in the famous moment of the Agnus Dei where Beethoven conjures up the menacing sounds of war; but it is a small point.

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The Choral Fantasy, that most far-reachingly original among Beethoven’s pot-boilers, is much less impressive. Gerhard Oppitz’s stolid playing is the chief culprit here: in his hands the long opening piano solo lacks any feeling of improvisation, and his contribution to the ensuing variations is charmless. Both works are adequately recorded, though I could have wished for more choral presence in the Mass. Misha Donat