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The Missa Solemnis is like nothing else that Beethoven composed during his long and productive career, the “Chorale” Symphony included. This “solemn mass,” has five sections: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. While the style is unquestionably that of the master, there are numerous unexpected shifts in tempo, dynamics, and instrumental assignments that constantly keep listeners on their aural “toes.” One can hear clear foreshadowing of the Ninth Symphony’s big final movement with its similar quartet of soloists and mixed chorus. There is something very special happening in the Missa, quite different from this later work. This difference is best heard in the Sanctus, a movement with incredible beauty and spirituality, highlighted by a heavenly violin solo, and in the final bars of the Agnus Dei that go out quietly and rather abruptly.
Ageless conductor Nicholas Harnoncourt (83 years old at the time of this concert!) has a long-standing association with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and is blessed on this occasion by four superb soloists, soprano Marlis Petersen, contralto Elisabeth Kulman, tenor Werner Gura, and bass Gerald Finley. The Netherlands Radio Choir contributes their usual stellar performance.
Director Dick Kuijs knows this house well and moves his cameras lovingly and lucidly over the orchestra, chorus and soloists, giving us a most welome intimacy. Details and colors are superb. Maestro Harnoncourt is frequently caught looking upward, as if seeking inspiration, perhaps from Beethoven himself.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 soundtrack is atmospheric with terrific depth, ambience and recovery of detail. The finale, Agnus Dei, is a prime example of how well the audio engineers caught all of the sonic elements and molded them into a coherent and thrilling sound picture. The stereo version is also quite good if not as spacious.
A brief booklet is included that gives us a summary of the work and a background on Harnoncourt and this 2012 performance.
The Definitive Word
Two years ago I had the wonderful experience of reviewing the Missa Solemnis, conducted by Christian Thielemann, his Dresden Staatskapelle Orchestra, and four outstanding soloists. I was so taken by this Blu-ray recording (with its 96kHz/24-bit sound) that I awarded it a rarely given 5-disc rating. The current performance with an equally strong quartet and chorus and one of the best Beethoven ensembles on the planet receives a very personal, often introspective reading from Harnoncourt. Although the running time is nearly the same, there is a greater sense of gravitas and a slower, more reverential pace. From a sight and sound perspective, this Missa is certainly the equal of its predecessor, and, its overall effect as moving. A true masterpiece can receive different treatments, each capable of effectively conveying the composer’s intent. This is certainly the case with the present disc. If asked to pick one performance over the other, I would be hard-pressed to declare a winner. In both instances, the audiences are held in rapt silence at the piece’s conclusion, a sign that the ultimate message of life, death, and resurrection has been delivered. This is another 5-disc winner and, alongside its predecessor, should be in the library of all true music lovers.
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[Rating:[Rating:5/5]> The Performance
[Rating:[Rating:5/5] Video Quality
[Rating:[Rating:4.5/5] Audio Quality
[Rating:[Rating:4.5/5] Supplemental Materials