Polina Pastirchak (soprano), Sophie Harmsen (mezzo-soprano), Steve Davislim (tenor), Johannes Weisser (baritone); RIAS Kammerchor; Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi HMM902427 68:34 mins
As René Jacobs says in an interesting interview that occupies the bulk of the CD booklet, the Missa solemnis is laden with musical symbolism. It’s true that perhaps no work of Beethoven demands more from the listener in terms of unravelling its mysteries. Jacobs penetrates to the heart of the music with his customary insight and intelligence, though not without adding an enigma or two of his own. Why, for instance, allow the chorus a sudden diminuendo in the last bar of the Gloria when it clearly needs to end with a shout of joy? And why take the ‘in gloria Dei patris’ fugue so fast as to deny it the Handelian weight Beethoven wanted? But elsewhere Jacobs is superb not only at communicating the music’s visceral excitement, but also at plumbing its emotional depths – not least in his deeply moving account of the Miserere.
Placing the divided choir at opposite sides of the orchestra, rather than in a unified body behind it, is a great aid to clarity; and Jacobs is helped by a fine team of soloists, with tenor Steve Davislim particularly effective in conveying the terror aroused by the sounds of war in the Dona nobis pacem.