the flagship release of his Elgar First Symphony and Wagner's
Die Meistersinger Prelude
comes Sir Roger Norrington's second album in the Faszination
Musik series. As the new director of the SWR Radio-Sinfonieorchester
Stuttgart, he now adds Beethoven's weighty Missa Solemnis
to the orchestra's repertoire; this album is taken from recent recordings
in the Stuttgart Beethovensaal in July 1999 at the Schwetzinger
himself had considered the mass to be his greatest work, writing
in a letter to Cherubini that "I have just completed a solemn mass
and called it my biggest and most perfect achievement." Historically,
however, it took the composer much longer than he had planned. In
fact, he had intended to complete it for the coronation of his pupil,
Archduke Randolph, as the Archbishop of Olmütz, on March 9th,
1820, but the music was not completed until the summer of 1822,
well past the red-letter date.
full premiere came even later on April 1824 in St Petersburg, although
it was never performed in its entirety in Vienna in Beethoven's
lifetime. Three items (Kyrie, Credo and Agnus Dei)
were performed on May 7th, 1824, together with the premiere of the
Ninth Symphony. The story of how the soprano Caroline Unger
had to turn the deaf composer around to acknowledge the applause
at the end of the symphony is well known, but less well-known is
the fact that Madam Unger and the mezzo Mlle. Henriette Sontag
both performed the Missa Solemnis under protest because of
the difficult solo parts.
undertakes this performance with a stellar cast of soloists and
choristers: tenor John Aler and bass Alastair Miles need no introduction,
while alto Cornelia Kallisch is a familiar name in the Hänssler
catalogue. Soprano Amanda Halgrimson has been making the rounds
of the European opera and concert circuit, and together they form
a most impressive quartet indeed.
said, the opening Kyrie gets off to a somewhat heavy-handed,
albeit surefooted, reading by Norrington. The monumental choral
incantation is delivered with a very deliberate assai sostenuto,
reminiscent of medieval free-flowing church formulas; perhaps Norrington
makes too much of this. The entry of the soloists - Aler, Halgrimson
and then Kallisch - alleviates the heavy weather to a certain extent,
but there is no mistaking the robustness in Norrington's approach.
incisiveness carries over into the chorus of the Gloria,
as strongly executed (pun unintended) as ever - but what catches
the attention is the orchestra, here blazing away with white-hot
intensity, vibrant and vigorous. With the entry of the sweetly-blended
soli on the Gratias agimus tibi, the urgency of the reading
goes up a notch: first the tenor-bass pair, then soprano-alto, and
finally the chorus. The larghetto of the Qui tollis
builds up grandly to the Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris
- this point being one of the clearest instances of the "live" quality
of the recording, with the soloists clearly placed forward of the
away the overcast of the opening, this section concludes with a
well-rehearsed Quoniam tu; the final fugal section does go
on for a bit, Beethovenian key modulations and all, but Norrington
astutely builds up this longeur with accumulating force.
The closing invocation Gloria, gloria, gloria is exuberant,
almost frightening in its intensity.
Credo, the biggest movement of the entire work, begins with
a huge orchestral outburst that is immediately taken up by the chorus,
now more than properly warmed up. Again, the soloists deliver the
Et homo factus est with superb ensemble. A pity that the
hushed intensity of the following Crucifixus etiam is marred
by audience noise, but the erumpent chorus at Et resurrexit and
recapitulation of the Credo is sheer atomic-grade quality.
repose of the Sanctus, coming after the apocalyptic Sturm
und Drang of the preceding section, is impressive: the musicians
respond to Norrington with much Einfühlungsvermögen
(to use the local vernacular). It is therefore all the more pity
that the violin solo bridging into the Benedictus fails to
capture the ecclesiastical mood of everything that has just gone
so, the final Agnus dei, which Beethoven himself described
as "a prayer for inward and outer peace", sets things right
- the ennui of the beginning seems to have disappeared for good
and Norrington confidently brings the work to its serene and unextravagant
conclusion. The descant trumpet fanfare at Dona nobis pacem
has a distinct martial air about it; each of the soloist entries
is also striking, without being idiosyncratic.
quality of sound is open and spacious - listeners unused to this
acoustic should adjust quickly. The audience, while present, is
on the whole unobtrusive (except for the single abovementioned instance)
and indeed, is remarkably quiet. Norrington's interpretation and
rapport with his performers is first-class; the result is very much
desirable and bears well under repeated listening - skip the first
track (if you must), but everything else thereafter is an experience
CHEE has quite a number of black T-shirts, but strenuously denies
being a member of the gothic movement (underground or otherwise).
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