Beethoven_Missa Solemnis Op. 123
Following their Bach B minor Mass (8/12), Philippe Herreweghe and his team have produced an equally fine account of Beethoven’s choral masterpiece. The orchestra is a period band but the sceptical and unkeen can rest assured that this is an expressive and weighty performance, to be ranked with any on modern instruments.
Indeed, the Kyrie is weightier than many. Herreweghe adopts a daringly slow tempo: the first section takes four and a half minutes, whereas Steinberg (ICA Classics, 8/12) skips through it in three and even Klemperer (Testament) comes in at 3'32". But the movement never drags, Herreweghe shaping the long phrases admirably. Elsewhere, his tempi are on the brisk side: the Benedictus flows nicely, with a hint of portamento in Alessandro Moccia’s sweet-toned violin solo. The orchestra is a constant delight: the woodwind at ‘Gratias agimus’ and ‘Qui tollis’ play with a chamber-music delicacy and the twittering flute at ‘Et incarnatus’ is perfectly balanced.
The adoption of a pitch at nearly a semitone below today’s standard helps danger spots like the tenors’ entry at ‘Quoniam tu solus sanctus’ to sound vigorous but unstrained. The choir is excellent, with an impressive precision in the Credo’s ‘et ascendit in coelum’ and ‘Amen’, leading to a mighty climax where Beethoven slams on the brakes. This precision is matched by the soloists, especially by Marlis Petersen, with her clear articulation of the runs on ‘patria’ towards the end of the Gloria. David Wilson-Johnson paints the opening of the Agnus Dei in dark colours that complement the sombre scoring. Clear, warm recorded sound.