WORKS: Mass in C Major, Op. 86; Ah! Perfido; Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt
PERFORMER: Charlotte Margiono, Catherine Robbin, William Kendall, Alastair Miles; The Monteverdi Choir; Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 435 391-2 DDD
Gardiner adopts a slow rather than ‘authentic’ brisk Andante for the Kyrie of the Mass, then takes the Gloria at a breakneck speed; the fugues which end the Gloria and Credo are electrifying, banishing all trace of contrapuntal pedantry. The risks pay off. I have never heard this piece so fresh, so worthy of middle-period Beethoven: a rich chiaroscuro of expression and brilliance. My slight reservation is that the sober and accurate soloists are a little bland; I except Catherine Robbin’s warm opening of the wonderful ‘Qui tollis’. But this only serves to highlight the vivid commitment and incredible precision of the Monteverdi Choir. The orchestra is an ‘authentic’ band, but this should deter nobody; rather it adds to its intrinsic appeal as an ensemble of all-round excellence based on good string players, with sensitive woodwind, particularly mellow horn (Agnus Dei), and cracking trumpets and drums.
There are two welcome fillers (placed before the Mass): a more committed performance of the fine Mozartian concert scena Ah! Perfido by Charlotte Margiono, and the haunting Goethe chorus Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, reminders of the treasures which lie in ‘minor’ works of Beethoven. Julian Rushton