Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Schubert,Wagner
WORKS: Missa solemnis; Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished); Faust Overture
PERFORMER: Teresa Stich-Randall (soprano), Norma Procter (contralto), Richard Lewis (tenor), Kim Borg (bass); BBC Chorus, BBC SO, BBC Northern SO/Jascha Horenstein
Beethoven’s Missa solemnis has perplexed some of the finest musical minds. Certainly it contains glorious music, and yet the unity is hard to grasp. Even such a widely acknowledged master interpreter as Otto Klemperer struggled for years to find the key to unlock its mysteries. And listening to his classic 1960 recording you might feel that he still saw it as a sequence of visions rather than a coherent single statement. Which makes the success of this Jascha Horenstein 1961 performance all the more striking. As in his best Bruckner and Mahler recordings, Horenstein strikes an extraordinary balance between intense expression and feeling for the work as a continuously unfolding musical argument – never in my experience has the Missa solemnis sounded more like a great choral symphony. At the same time the quality of the playing, and particularly of the singing, is exceptional. Horenstein insisted on extra rehearsal time for this performance, even offering to conduct piano rehearsals with chorus and soloists in his free time. And it shows. The chorus is confident and secure, even in the cruel heights of the Credo’s soprano writing, while the soloists are beautifully balanced as a team, and at no point do they sound anything other than fully involved and responsive to Horenstein’s direction. I do miss something of Klemperer’s intense personal devotion in the Kyrie or the opening pages of the Benedictus (EMI), or John Eliot Gardiner’s volatile drama in the Gloria and Agnus Dei (DG Archiv). But Horenstein always compels through his sureness of the work’s musical and spiritual journey. What an underrated conductor he still is! The same balance of flowing purpose and detailed expression can be felt in Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and also in the Faust Overture – a performance that convinced me that this is more than an interesting detour in Wagner’s compositional path. Strongly recommended. Stephen Johnson