- Audio CD (Jan 18 1991)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Import
- Label: Universal Music Group
- ASIN: B0000057DP
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
|1. Missa Solemnis: Kyrie - Assai sostenuto (Mit Andacht)|
|2. Missa Solemnis: Gloria (Allegro vivace)|
|3. Missa Solemnis: Credo (Allegro ma non troppo)|
|4. Missa Solemnis: Sanctus - Adagio (Mit Andacht)|
|5. Missa Solemnis: Agnus Dei - Adagio|
Part of the issue is that the piece was written over a number of years (1819-1823); enough years for Beethoven to develop in substantial ways. Consequently, the earlier movements have a different character than the later ones. But wait there's more: Beethoven also originally conceived this project (at least, according to a few sources) as a more traditional religious piece - he apparentely studied church music history with a vengeance, and this study manifests itself throughout the Mass. The goals apparently changed through the years, since the Kyrie and the Gloria have a more - relatively - traditional, classical feel to them, and the later movements are more moody and romantic (contrast the Gloria to the Sanctus and the differences stick out like escargot in a burger joint).
Partly for the reasons above, and partly due to the length of each individual section (the Kyrie is the shortest at just under 9 minutes, and the Credo is the longest at just over 17 minutes) this piece seems best ingested and approached one section at a time, rather than as one big lump sum total. This way the distinctiveness of each part is emphasized, and the listener is not lost in the progression (not always is there a clear indication that a movement has ended, and often I find myself - while listening casually - wondering if I'm in the Gloria or the Sanctus, or the Agnus Dei - the Credo stands out the most due to the very demonstrative marching and pounding theme that runs through it, and the singing of "Credo Credo" is the most sing-along phrase of the entire work - I sometimes catch myself belting out a "Credo Credo" when I least expect or want it to happen).
Another FAQ about the Missa Solemnis (or "Solemn Mass" or "Mass in D") is it's utilty: did Beethoven write it for religious or secular reasons (or: is it more like Brahm's Requiem or more like Bach's Passions)? It's one of those fascinating, corpus callosum splitting questions that provides much stimulus without much resolution. It doesn't appear that Beethoven was a practicing Christian in the traditional 18th century sense (i.e., he didn't go to mass regularly), but he has been quoted as saying that he wanted this Mass to incite religious feelings in the audience. But "religious" is only a somewhat kind of loaded and relative term. The other big spear of contention is the Credo itself: does Beethoven run through the major Catholic creeds in record time out of respect or disrespect? There are salient arguments on both sides of all these issues, and since Beethoven doesn't have too much to say about it these days, we're left with semingly nullifying arguments.
Religious or not, it's an amazing work that takes work to appreciate. This work pays off in droves and droves and piles of droves. You'll be drowning in droves. The Kyrie's harmonizations (how many voices resolve to a single voice that finishes the phrase) are astounding; the beginning of the Sanctus has to be up there with some of the most beautiful and ethereal of Beethoven's sounds; the Agnus Dei is one of those great musical finishes that is even more appreciable once the entire is grasped. These are just a paltry few of the highlights of the Mass.
This CD is arguably one of Sir John Eliot Gardiner's (don't forget the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque soloists) greatest achievements. Any Beethoven fan will jump in and happily drown in the sonorous splendor that is this disc. Excuse me while I dive...
Solti's 2nd recording has the distinction that the balance between chorus, soloists and orchestra is superb. For once, you can actually hear the orchestra in many parts of the Gloria, Credo and Sanctus with the chorus, whereas in other recordings, the orchestra inevitably gets swamped by the chorus when the chorus comes in at full force. And the Berlin Philharmonic is at its virtuosistic best!! They play magnificently - and when I say they are magnificent, they are MAGNIFICENT!! I agree with Gramophone's assessment that the soloists (Varady, Vermillon, Cole and Pape) give the impression of listening to each other and knowing their 'ebb and flow' in the piece - when they are important and when they should recede. THIS is really rare. PLUS all 4 soloists sing very beautifully - none of them are trying to 'stand out' but take their place dutifully (as they should) in the fabric of the whole piece. One of Solti's great attributes as a conductor was his constant development as a musician. In his second recording, he surpasses his first recording in the understanding of the architecture of the piece. In his recording, some parts of the Missa drag somewhat and doesn't quite gel together. Here, his understanding is total. The parts flow logically from one to the next, there's no unduly slow tempi, and for the first time in my history of listening to the Missa Solemnis, I actually UNDERSTAND the architecture of the piece as a whole. I used to listen to sections without seeing the big picture, now I see the big picture of the Missa in Solti's 2nd.
Gardiner, in my view, has missed some of the insights in Solti's second recording. As another example, in the Et Vitam Venturi fugue, Solti's transition from the slow to the fast and back to the slow is fantastic. When he ends the fast section (which is as fast as Gardiner's - maybe a few seconds slower), you still feel the forward momentum of the music. In Gardiner's case, the transition from slow to fast is splendid (but any conductor can do that). But when he ends the fast section, I feel that the music stalls somewhat.
I shall keep searching for the perfect Missa Solemnis (which doesn't exist).