Beethoven: Missa solemnis

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Teldec
WORKS: Missa solemnis
PERFORMER: Eva Mei, Marjana Lipovsek, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Robert Holl; Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: 9031-74884-2 DDD
‘From the heart – may it in turn go to the heart,’ wrote Beethoven above the opening Kyrie of this overwhelmingly imposing work. Whatever else one may say about Harnoncourt’s performance, one can hardly accuse him of neglecting the music’s devotional aspect. More controversial, perhaps, than his unusually slow Kyrie is his blending of period and modern instruments, and his perverse use of hand-stopped notes on modern horns to recreate the rasping sound Beethoven had to tolerate on the valveless instruments of his day.

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Harnoncourt is not the first to give the ‘Pleni sunt coeli’ and ‘Osanna’ sections of the Sanctus to the soloists (Klemperer did the same), but it is difficult not to believe that such a radical departure from tradition actually resulted from an oversight in Beethoven’s manuscript. These powerful fugues are more naturally effective when taken by the chorus, though Harnoncourt’s soloists are undeniably first-rate. Not so the recording: the sound is generally murky and distant, the orchestral strings lack presence, and the sublime solo violin part of the Benedictus is relegated to the background. Once one has recovered from the cheerful disposition of his Kyrie, John Eliot Gardiner’s single-disc performance has rather more to offer. Misha Donat