on 22 October 2003
This Missa Solemnis was my introduction to Beethoven's choral music ten years ago when I was about to play in a performance of the piece, and I can honestly say that I haven't found another recording since which comes close.
The reletively small orchestra and chorus used mean that there is huge clarity throughout (for once you can hear the solo strings doubling the solo voices in the 'Et incarnatus est'), the tempi are never needlessly slow, it's an incredibly dramatic rendition (the strings and clarinets in the 'Crucifixus' actually sound like the hammering in of nails), and a few highlights for me have to be the flute solo in the 'Et incarnatus est' (again!), the prelude to the Benedictus on divisi violas and cellos (again such a clear sound that you can hear the flutes doubling the viola lines near the bottom of their register), and the wonderful quintet for soloists and solo violin that is the Benedictus itself.
Oh, just go and buy it and listen for yourself!
on 24 January 2006
I grew up on the grand and wonderful Klemperer version. This is quite different - and more thrilling. The faster tempi adopted by Gardiner are not adopted at the expense of the weightiness and typical Beethoven solidity of this mighty work. The soloists are excellent and the playing great. An outstanding achievement
This performance is a sparkling crystaline intimate jewel of fiery brilliance and dynamic energy. The period instruments and the rather small choral and orchestral forces create a work which, in my opinion comes very close to us. When you compare the Klemperer version with this Gardiner version you get the feeling that the monumental majestic quality of the Klemperer version is so big and grand that it appears to sit outside of our sphere of time and space in another timeless world of eternity, which of course is exactly what the work is all about, but however at the same time it remains distant from us - a great monument like the Colosseum or the Parthenon existing in its own world, while the Gardiner version though perhaps lacking a deep emotional pathos or poetic intensity and tension does come closer to us and touches us if not as much emotionally as the Klemperer version at least in a structual sense. It is closer and more vivid and more brilliant. Gardiner's forces with their precise attacks, meticulous detail and articulation create an overall orchestral color that is of silvery clarity and sparkle, while the Klemperer version is golden and bronze-like, and the modern instruments of the Klemperer version use more vibrato. Of course the DDD recorded sound, and 1990's audio engineering of the Gardiner version is better than the ADD sound and 1960's engineering of the Klemperer version which also has audible tape hiss. I think you definitely need both versions, the Gardiner version for a period instrument performnce to see the structure of the work and hear the melodic weaving of counterpuntal lines and well as experience the precise articulations of the orchestration and choral singing with its great brilliance and fiery energy, and the Klemperer version for a modern instrument version for its other worldy emotionalism and grand majestic architectural sound. The Gardiner version won the Gramophone Record of the Year Award (Choral) in 1991, while the Klemperer version is still considered the standard reference recording of the work. Both performances satisfy different musical and emotional needs. I think Beethoven would like both renditions for he would see all of his meticulous detailed writing and orchestration and his study of Renaissance and Palestrina-like counterpoint shown off to great effect in the Gardiner and would feel the sublime majesty he created in the Klemperer version. Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
on 30 November 2002
Possibly the most profound piece of music ever written and so therefore no definitive performance can ever exist but all have have value. Gardiner's version, done with an ear towards someone's guess as to what period instruments sounded like, has moments of expected delight but compared with the inspirational Jochum version, it falls short and fails to completely inspire.
A quick scan of the many reviews this disc has attracted reveals a clear split between those who worship at Gardiner's shrine and those like me who remain underwhelmed. If you like your Beethoven clean, clear, pacy and energised, this is for you, but a comparison with Klemperer, Karajan or Giulini soon reveals what is lacking. There is little of the sublime in Gardiner's humanistic approach, little of the spiritually elevated, no real vertical sense; everything is efficient and well-controlled. The choir of 35 is far too small to convey any sense of their offering up the supplicatory prayer of a suffering mass of humanity and the soloists, while perfectly accomplished, cannot begin to rival the splendour of those on the sets I cite above. To me, this is like a brisk run-through to ensure that everyone knows his part before the Maestro arrives to teach how to inject feeling into the text and notes. My response could well offend and outrage Gardiner's fans, but the point of reviewing is to try to draw on one's experience to tell it the way one hears it - and I know I shall not be returning to this cold, soulless account when I can hear Karajan's soaring Benedictus or Klemperer's monumental Kyrie. I need a Missa Solemnis which helps me "touch the face of God", not learn the score.
on 9 July 2000
Quite honestly if you don't own this wonderful CD,it doesn't just represent a gap in your collection,it constitutes a vast yawning chasm there,and in your life in general.I mean to say,how on Earth have you staggered on so long without this gorgeous,heaven-storming masterpiece forming an integral part of your tenure upon the planet?
I was extemely fortunate that this CD appeared on the scene back in 1991,when I was relatively new to classical music,and for some unknown reason I decided to make it my first ever foray into the world of Beethoven,and boy-oh-boy - what a fortuitous decision that turned out to be! You see my only previous experience of choral music had been Mozart's "Great" Mass in C (under the blessed Gardiner of course),and having thoroughly enjoyed this,I was more than ready for more of the same.So once I had taken the "Missa Solemnis" safely back to my lair,I fed it into my CD player,and settled back to enjoy what I naively presumed to be a similiar sound-world as Mozarts.The "Kyrie" gave me no cause for alarm,and indeed I was quite enraptured by it's prayerful,supplicatory unfolding grace.Thus imagine my astonishment when the "Gloria" all but blasts me out of my chair with the full force of it's initial express train impetus! I must confess that it scared me off for a few days,and I put the disc back on the shelf to languish for a while.Just goes to show how daunting this piece can be if you come to it as a "raw recruit",as I did.But once you have these incredible sounds reverberating in your ears,it's impossible to run away from this Mass,and today I consider myself a prisoner for life in it's glorious gaol.
Once you have survived the initial buffeting and bruising of the early stages of the Gloria,you will embark on the most amazing musical voyage through the liturgy,and as much as I love the earlier settings by Mozart,this is way beyond anything he could have envisaged (although given a longer life he may have come back to the genre with a vengeance).Even Haydn in his brilliant "late" masses has nothing like this.But don't think that excuses you from collecting them,because contained therein is some of the most beautiful,heart-rending,soul-easing and downright magical passages in all music.Also,Beethoven's only other earlier setting of the mass,is on no account to be dismissed as a dry-run for it's sky-scraping sibling.It is a fully-formed masterpiece in it's own right,and you could do yourself a great favour by ordering it at the same time as this one.I personally love the performance under George Guest which used to be on the Decca label,but these days appears on Belart.It's at bargain price as well,so it's an absolute steal. The Gloria delivers serenity as well as tempest in it's course,and the contrast between the "Et in terra pax homnibus..." and the opening bars is quite breathtaking in it's ethereal efficacy.Yet perhaps the most ground-breaking thing about Beethoven's treatment of the doxology,is the way he fashions the most incredible fugue from the concluding,"in gloria Dei Patris,Amen".This is where this particular recording and interpretation wins hands down on anything that has come before,with it's perfectly balanced sound-stage.Orchestra,Soloists and choir are ideally integrated,without any particular element hogging the limelight.And so this mighty fugue is at last unbound to storm through the stratosphere with a titanic thrust that would make the Saturn V rocket seem a mere "sparkler" by comparison!
The "Credo" is unusual in that Beethoven fairly rushes through the text itself,and uses a repeated four-note declaration of the word Credo (I believe)itself as a recurring motif throughout.However,sheer magic is worked upon us when the enormous power of the musical forces simply evaporate at,"Et incarnatus" and we are suddenly in the eye of the storm gazing at an azure sky of tear-jerking beauty.It's a quite marvellous moment,and I'm heartily jealous of anyone discovering it for the first time. Beethoven strains our emotions even further in the "Crucifixus" and the slow winding down to "et sepultus est" is exquisitely realised,with some lovely work by the soloists and choir on the word "passus".The forceful (and immediate!) declaration of,"Et resurrexit" leaves us in no doubt about Beethoven's beliefs,and he certainly carries us with him,and virtually propels us skywards at "Et ascendit in coelum" which seems singularly appropriate! The Credo ends with a fugue to match that of the Gloria and a wonderful meditation on the final Amen by the soloists.
The lovely devotional start of the "Sanctus" soon gives way to the magisterial "Pleni sunt coeli" with a forceful setting of "Osanna in excelsis" to conclude.Then comes the most unbelievably serene music ever composed by man.The "Praeludium" may sound like an organ but is in fact Beethoven's wonderful scoring for strings and woodwind.Thus we are gently ushered in to the absolutely heavenly "Benedictus".Never again in music will you discover (and believe me I've looked!) anything quite as stunningly radiant and soul-searing as this particular passage.It will haunt your memory for the rest of your days,and is as close a glimpse of Paradise as we mere mortals are ever likely to get
After that the "Agnus Dei" and "Dona nobis pacem" may seem like an anti-climax,and indeed it's to Beethoven's credit that he doesn't try to "top" what has come before,but ends the Mass with,in his own words,"a Prayer for inner and outer peace".That's exactly what is communicated here,and brings to a dignified close this the most monumental and miraculous settings of the Ordinary of the Mass.
As I said at the beginning of this review,not only is your record collection null and void without this work forming a cornerstone of it's existence: your life is incomplete as well,...this particular CD has got to represent the most incredible value for money ever!
on 22 September 2012
I had been trying to listen to Beethoven's Missa Solemnis for many years, determined to "learn" to like it... However except for the first movement which I had always loved, the rest of it just never really did anything for me... Being a huge Beethoven fan, and knowing that this is considered one his greatest and most profound works I was very frustrated that I just didn't get it... that was until I decided to try a new recording.
The recording I had been previously listening to was the famous Klemperer recording, which has a very heavy sound. This Gardiner recording is played by period instruments with a more modest size orchestra and gives a much clearer and crisp sound, so even the less-well-trained ear can pick out every part and every note, while still sounding very grand and bold. On the first listen I was amazed: it was like everything had been brought into focus and suddenly it all made sense. I was (and still am) overwhelmed by the beauty and power of this music.
I haven't yet returned to the Klemperer recording but I'm curious as to how it will sound to me now!
Highly recommended for anyone who has so-far struggled to listen to this amazing yet very complex work by the greatest composer of all time, and also to anyone who already loves and appreciates it and wants to hear a more authentic sound.
on 3 December 2007
This is a wonderful recording of what must rank as one of the most awesome pieces of music ever written. Personally I can listen to this 3 times in a row, and will have goose pimples all the way through, for 3 hours solid, every time. This music is just so jaw-droppingly, humongously, enormously, epically BIG!!! If this music was a painting it would cover a canvas the size of a football field. If this music was a sculpture it would dwarf the Eifel tower. It is truly incomprehensible. Luckily you don't have to comprehend, it's enough to fasten your seat belt, turn up the volume, and prepare to take leave of planet humdrum for an unforgettable ride.
One remark on this particular recording: some reviewers (e.g. Milan) think this recording compares unfavorably with the Klemperer. I own both recordings, and I strongly disagree. In fact, I bought this recording because the Klemperer recording had given me an inkling that the missa solemnis was a particular gem, but the Klemperer recording was simply not good enough to do it justice. For starters, the Klemperer is not a digital recording, but is done from old, poor quality masters that lack in clarity and depth and sound very flat, like listening to the music through a garden hose. The same certainly cannot be said of this Gardiner recording, which is so sharp and clear that, when you listen to it on a good stereo, you think the orchestra is sitting right next to you (which is half the fun, because it's a BIG orchestra making HUGE music, and they couldn't possibly fit in my little room, but here they all are nevertheless). Furthermore, I am convinced the Klemperer is far too ponderous and slow throughout. This Gardiner recording, in contrast, picks up the pace where appropriate (and here it is often appropriate - the fanfares and crescendos of Christ returning in a blaze of glory can't be done at a ponderous, ambling pace, they've got to ROCK your socks off, and in this recording they most certainly do). I'm sure Ludwig would have approved. Just compare Beethoven's 'Tempest' piano sonata and it is obvious that Ludwig was well into dramatic tempo changes and loved the occasional 'furioso'. Gardiner understood this and makes it happen here. (Unlike Klemperer, who either didn't get it or just couldn't keep up).
In a nutshell, this is a fine interpretation of the biggest, most incredible music on earth. For the price an absolute steal.
on 2 November 2007
I bought the CD after reading the recommendations by other owners. I will not say that I regret it (how can one regret having a copy of any performance of Solemnis?) but I will say that I was quite disappointed. I gave thought on it since I don't like the Don Giovanni under Gardiner, but, this is a lesson learned for me. I do not know whether it is because I am too much in awe of Klemperer but my ear is not coping with Gardiner's odd interpretation, it just lacks the strength, dynamism and convincing singing (soloists & choir) I experience with Klemperer. To conclude, I would not recommend it to anyone that regards Klemperer as the "Alpha and Omega".
on 17 January 2013
I have had this as a much-loved CD for 12 years or more, and if anyone asks me (one day they might) to nominate Beethoven's single greatest piece I would unhesitatingly name the Missa Solemnis, largely on the basis of Gardiner's recording. I recently bought Giulini's much-recommended version with Harper, Tear, Baker and Sotin, and while it is indeed sublime and moving, it also seems to me to be exactly the kind of performance that would put anyone but a classical music fan off the piece. Gardiner by contrast captures why this work matters: it's angry ugly intensity and energy are a world away from the piety and dare one say it solemnity of proceedings under Giulini. Gardiner's is like street protest, whereas Giulini's is a cathedral procession. For the devout or the religiose, Giulini will mightily convince. Gardiner is still this atheist's first choice.