Beethoven

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Ludwig van Beethoven
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Missa solemnis
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Marianne Beate Kielland (alto), Thomas Walker (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (bass); Cappella Amsterdam; Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century / Daniel Reuss
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921124

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The Missa solemnis is Beethoven’s most demanding work, both for its performers and for its listeners. Partly that is because it defies all the expectations we have of a Mass; it struggles to believe, and it’s hard to say whether it succeeds. All settings of the Mass end with a cry for peace, but Beethoven’s is a terrified whimper, after a graphic portrayal of turmoil, with the soloists virtually screaming in supplication. Yet it begins in a monumental, assertive vein – one might say that it is a sacred work which ends as an opera, while Fidelio is an opera that ends as a sacred work. The Missa should sound like a struggle, for the most part, and this one succeeds in that. The Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century plays with passionate commitment, and the Capella Amsterdam is fervent, but as always one’s throat begins to ache in sympathy. 

The soloists are not big stars, though there are places where they need to be – especially in the Sanctus, which is an endless sensuous feast, all the more luscious because of the strange mixture of the archaic and the modern that Beethoven produces either side of it. This performance is more homogeneous than many, and therefore makes for less exhausting listening than, say, Otto Klemperer’s or Carlo Maria Giulini’s. But should it? My feeling is that Beethoven himself remained, in this work, in a state of something between unease and anguish, and the performances which impress most are those that convey that.

Michael Tanner

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