Between them, Philippe Herreweghe and Rene Jacobs have released some recordings that could make a convert of anyone with an allergy to HIP cliches. Here is a fully realized, intensely expressive Missa Solemnis that never skates over the surface or drops into a routine dog trot. The lead review, succinct s it is, makes the right points. Here we have the simplicity and clarity of period style applied with a deep understanding of Beethoven. Arguably the Missa Solemnis is his most cosmic work, and even after years of exposure, one can find it daunting and at times baffling. Yet the overwhelming impact of Beethoven's spiritual striving must be confronted by anyone who hopes to lead a successful reading. Some big-name conductors (Giulini, Levine) have gotten bogged down in religiosity or grandiosity, missing the spare directness of Beethoven's intent. In the leaner period style I found Gardiner mistaken, since he does his best to strip the work of either ambition or spiritual greatness, and Zinman is blank-faced and zippy.
Which left room for this riveting reading, which is as moving as any I've ever heard. The reduced forces achieve two things on immediate notice. First, the winds stand out much more starkly than in regular performance; second, the vocalists don't have to be superhuman to succeed in their parts. The whole quartet is satisfying, even though none of the singers was none to me or possesses a world-class voice. The chorus is given curelly exposed lines, all the more so in this ultra-clear recording, and as always with Herreweghe's choral work, their execution is quite impressive. So far as pacing goes, much of it is only a fraction faster than the usual -- Herreweghe rightly finds such weight and majesty in the score that he naturally slows down to accommodate it. I was delighted to find that his lilting rhythm is various sections worked beautifully in contrast to the almost crushing awe of other sections. Nothing is taken too lightly, however. As far as religiosity goes, the conductor sees this as a work that dramatizes the soul rather than a work of church devotion, and his stance suits our times.
In all, a great reading that is so personal and expressive that it rises to the very top of the list.