Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

Carolyn Sampson, Marianne Beate Kielland, Thomas Walker, David Wilson-Johnson SATB, Cappella Amsterdam, Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Daniel Reuss
75:03
Glossa GCD 921124

In an ideal world, I would not have had to review this recording. The Missa Solemnis was a set work in first year at university and, frankly, as an 18 year old, I just was not ready to appreciate such a monumental piece of art, from any perspective. Now in my fifties and almost a regular listener to Radio 4, I find myself better able to cope with the challenge and, having worked my way through the Haydn and Hummel masses courtesy of the excellent Chandos series, then the Beethoven C major mass  (which I had once sight-read in a concert in Glasgow, which was very much a white-knuckle ride!), now the epic and once-daunting creation seems not only manageable and more easily understood, it is also a pleasure to sit back and enjoy. Everything about this disc guarantees intellectual satisfaction, too – the choral work is excellent, with unanimity of declamation and crispness of fugal entries, and the orchestra produces some glorious sounds (I feel I must highlight the sparkling contributions of solo flautist and violinist, but they are in splendid company throughout – the list of wind players reads like a Who’s Who? of HIP giants!), but then above them the four soloists rise heroically, not in a “listen to me; I can sing much louder than all of you put together” sort of way, but rather in a “didn’t Beethoven build this structure with such absolute mastery?” sort of way, allowing them to project their all-important contributions to so many massive moments in a single work. There are not many large choral works that bring me pleasure; I have learned to love Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, and I do enjoy listening to Eliot Gardiner’s recording of the Verdi Requiem; it seems now as if I have no choice but to add Reuss’ Missa Solemnis  to that list, as I will be enjoying this recording for a long, long time!

Brian Clark