Beethoven: Missa solemnis

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: Dabringhaus und Grimm Gold
WORKS: Missa solemnis
PERFORMER: Hillevi Martinpelto (soprano), Elena Zaremba (mezzo-soprano), Herbert Lippert (tenor), Ronnie Johansen (bass); Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno, Beethovenhalle Orchestra of Bonn/Marc Soustrot
CATALOGUE NO: MDG 337 1128-2
A performance can be enjoyable and revealing in the concert hall without making you want to buy the recording and take it home. That’s probably how I’d have felt after this Missa solemnis from the Bonn Beethovenhalle. It’s very well played and sung – the Czech Philharmonic Choir is remarkably secure in the punishing heights of the Gloria and Credo – with only a momentary faltering in pitch from the solo team in the Agnus Dei. But it tends to be in the quiet devotional sections – the ‘Et incarnatus’ or the Benedictus – that the involvement is most intense. This is not a performance that scores when it comes to drama or wild exultation. The trumpet-and-drum fanfares in the Agnus Dei are remarkably staid – no sense of mounting threat there – so it’s hardly surprising that Hillevi Martinpelto’s pleas for peace never sound terribly urgent.

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Nobody brings this passage to life as thrillingly as John Eliot Gardiner, and he’s also terrific at communicating the volatile, barely containable ecstasy of the Gloria and Credo. But his version falls down in precisely those passages where Soustrot and his team are at their best – in the moments of rapt contemplation like the soaring solo counterpoint of the Benedictus. For a more rounded, more all-encompassing view, Nikolaus Harnoncourt on Teldec is probably the best, despite minor eccentricities and a not too vivid recording – mind you, I doubt if Harnoncourt at his most eccentric would have dreamed up anything as weird as Soustrot’s selection of encores. Stephen Johnson