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on 4 March 2017
Very good performance
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on 18 March 2011
Christian Thielemann has just given us his remarkable set of Beethoven symphonies on DVD. With his new orchestra, the Dresden Staatskapelle, a quartet of very good soloists and the outstanding Sächsischer Staatsopernchor he now presents what I see as the logical and transcendental summation of all of Beethoven's works: the Missa Solemnis. The DVD competition is stiff. There is Bernstein's inimitable 1978 rendition in still acceptable sound and film, a very special interpretation by Michael Gielen (1986, nla), my long-time favorite, Sir Gilbert Levine's deeply felt and impressive reading and, finally, Fabio Luisi's recording (both 2005) with the same orchestral and choral forces as Thielemann's. The latter two certainly invite comparison: a comparison from which I'll refrain, because I can not quite warm up to Luisi's reading for purely subjective reasons. Thieleman and his excellent ensemble shine in every respect. Tempi are deliberate, as could be expected, but never drag. Despite the very large number of musicians in attendance, Thielemann keeps the sound stage as transparent and detailed as possible: this is one of his trademarks as a conductor. Without baton, he shapes every phrase, every motif to perfection, never losing his grip on the incredibly long thematic lines and on the whole beauty of this monumental edifice. I found myself spellbound by his moving interpretation, by the cohesion of everything and by his rapt attention to the score which totally involves all concerned as well as the listener. The uncompressed sound and the video are perfect. Get this and you will be elated. Now I wish, as a counterpoint, for a Missa from Paavo Järvi and his Bremer Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie: if wishes were fishes...

***

Magnificent! Five Stars

The following review deals with Nikolaus Harnoncourt's recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, NOT with Christian Thielemann's performance of the same work (please see my review there). Apparently there has been some confusion at Amazon about these two versions, and various comments - including the perceptive review by my much-esteemed fellow-reviewer Ian Giles -- have not been assigned properly.

We have been blessed in recent years with a slate of remarkable interpretations of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis on DVD, including Gilbert Levine's, Fabio Luisi's (both 2005), John Nelson's (2010) and Christian Thielemann's (2011) readings of what I dare consider - damn the torpedoes - the composer's greatest achievement. Direct comparisons of these readings are problematic, not only because the Missa appears to lend itself to a great variety of approaches in style and genre (as a mass, as a cantata, as a symphony with chorus and soloists, a deeply spiritual piece and/or a monumental, if unorthodox struggle with the transcendental), but also because of the very distinctive differences in the respective conductor's relationship to the score - differences which often become obvious already after several bars in the opening movement. These differences also may account, at least in part, for certain variances in the performances' tempi (total time Levine: 85 min., Luisi: 88 min., Nelson: 80 min., Thielemann: 90 min., Harnoncourt: 99 min.), however the "objective" timings can be quite deceptive: when listening to any given performance, the tempi regardless of their clock timings will sound "right" or "wrong" to you.

Harnoncourt's reading, presented in splendid Blu-ray video and audio, recorded live in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw during concerts in April 2012, is a case in point: though every individual movement is taken slightly slower than by Thielemann, the tempi feel perfect to me. Needless to say, the RCO musicians - in wisely somewhat reduced complement - play like archangels, and thanks to the recording and the collective level of excellence, every instrumental solo shines out. This transparency of orchestral textures is an essential part of the Missa's aesthetics too often sadly blotted out, especially in elephantine readings of past generations. The Netherlands Radio Choir (at home in Hilversum, if I remember correctly) is wonderful from beginning to end. Likewise, the vocal soloists are first-rate. They are placed behind the orchestra directly in front of the choir, presumably to avoid any showcasing or even the tiniest hint of an "operatic" illusion. If they seem a bit taxed on a few occasions, this is more than plausible considering Beethoven's merciless demands on his singers.

When I call this performance "magnificent" in this review's heading, it is in want of a better term: it is absolutely moving, spellbinding, enormously powerful in the more extraverted parts (Gloria; et resurrexit; the et vitam venturi fugue in the final pages of the Credo, the Hosanna) and deeply spiritual, infused with transcendental beauty in the more introspective passages. Concertmaster Liviu Prunaru (who is, to my dismay, not credited in the notes) gives a luminous, heavenly beautiful and, at the same time, unsentimental solo in the Benedictus. From the assertive, almost challenging Kyrie through the exuberant Gloria, the multi-faceted Credo, the festive Sanctus and tender Benedictus to the somber Agnus Dei - everything is done splendidly. Nikolaus Harnoncourt pauses and sits down for a few minutes both after the Gloria and the Credo, thus letting the music resonate in the ensuing silence. This is a very personal account of the Missa second to none. Enthusiastically recommended.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 10 March 2012
Prequel:
My thanks to a reader who has found this review wrongly listed by Amazon under the disc by Harnoncourt as well as being correctly listed under Thielemann's performance in Dresden. Unfortunately this is a common problem with listings and cannot be corrected by reviewers. Please be patient and understanding and either scroll down past this review or read it for unintentional additional interest if appropriate! Thanks - Ian Giles
.....................................

Beethoven wrote this work in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars which affected Beethoven deeply. In 1823 he invited various European royal houses to subscribe to a printed edition of his Mass which is how a copy of the work with Beethoven's own autograph annotations has become a part of the holdings of the Saxon State and University library.

Every year on February 13th there is a commemorative concert held in Dresden to commemorate the destruction of Dresden towards the end of World War 2. In this case the concert also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the rebuilding of the opera house. These concerts always feature a requiem and end with a minute's silence without any applause. This end to the performance is included in this 2010 recording and is, in itself, a deeply moving conclusion.

The performance is very fine indeed and rises impressively to all climatic moments with a finely matched quartet of four star singers, committed singing from the choir and immaculate playing from the orchestra under the direction of Thielemann. The long solo violin obligato part throughout the Benedictus is particularly beautifully played by the leader, Matthias Wollong, and the Agnus Dei concludes the work with Beethoven's strong ' plea for inner and outer peace' making the strongest impact imaginable.

This is not a joyful occasion but it is a moving one. The camera work is suitably sensitive whilst being finely detailed and the sound is provided in both DTS-HD and stereo and is of the high quality that one knows now to expect from C Major.

This is a very fine recording and performance of this work and deserves to be considered seriously by purchasers interested in a high quality visual and sonic presentation of this work. This will particularly be so if they also respond to the connection being made between the work and the reason for its performance at Dresden on this occasion.

........................................

Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

A Historically and Musically interesting Review, Ian!
I shall order it now.
Very helpful, thank you. (U.K. review)
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on 27 June 2012
I do consider the Missa as Beethoven's greatest orchestral/choral work, the 9th notwithstanding. So far, it has been given a step-brotherly treatment by most of the visual media, and there are very few 'commendable' performances on CDs.
The very grandeur (if I may call it that) of the work gets lost in the inadequate resources for recording it.

This particular production remedies most of those inadequacies. Thielmann has done a great job with his orchestra, and I dare say, this reading of Beethoven surpasses his much vaunted Symphonic cycle with the Vienna Philharmonic. Each detail is well chosen. The soloists are simply superb. The recording both audio and video is stuff that I have only thus far dreamed about.

No hesitation in giving it the high five.
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on 18 February 2012
and wow again! Beethoven's greatest work in a performance fully worthy of it. I have always admired Thielemann, but this tops the bill. Such power, beauty and respendent playing. The soloists are equally good. But this is Thielemann's (and Beethoven's) show.
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on 26 March 2011
Having heard Klemperer, Harnoncourt and other versions of the Missa, this superlative rendering in pristine video and audio satisfies in every way...... every note sounds just right and the music is touching, as spiritually inspired as any.
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on 8 April 2016
Full marks for performance, with only one gripe - in the Benedictus the violin solo was rather lost. This sublime melody could hardly be heard.
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on 24 November 2013
This is now the most recent version of Beethoven's greatest Meisterwerk and is outstanding in its interpretation of tempi. Heavily influenced by adagio/andante(especially in the Kyrie and Agnus Dei)which I consider to be the best for sacred works, the full depth of meaning and emotion is delved par excellence to extract the essence of the work in which the composer pleads for God's Peace in the Universe. I would not like to say if it's the "last word" in tempi contextual to the work.When Harnoncourt sits down twice firstly at the end of the Gloria and then the Credo, its almost as if a subliminal message is being transmitted in an exquisite brand of indecipherable, musical morse code which the tempi taps out with resonance even in the silence. Compared to the other recent, excellent dvd versions at the Frauenkirche, Semperoper and the Calouste Gulbenkian, the soloists,including the violinist in the Benedictus, deliver dynamic yet understated performance to complement the rebalancing of the tempi and re-promoting innovatively the choral and orchestral gradations providing the work crucially with more space to "breathe". The coordination is exemplary and given the complexity of the fugues, astounding. The Et Vitam Venturi, in particular, gets a measured emphasis needed. There is, however, one major defect that is a repeat of the Calouste Gulbenkian version where, in the apposite movements of the Sanctus, the chorus is omitted in favour of the soloists. The Sanctus is about the heavenly hosts descending(Christ's expectation on the cross) the chorus are indispensable for those apposite movements. This otherwise excellent interpretation has also persuaded me that if and when Berlioz's Chez D'Oeuvre ,Grande Messe Des Morts Requiem gets its 21st Century,dvd treatment, the choice of conductor is clear.
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on 12 July 2013
c'est assez moyen la soprano est quelconque, ce n'est pas au niveau de karajan dans ses 3 versions
la qualité technique est très bonne
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