Beethoven himself felt that the Missa Solemnis was his greatest work. It is hard to disagree with him with after hearing such a performance. Bernstein is a composer as well as a conductor and he was powerfully influenced in his own Mass in conducting the present work. I feel that what you get in this performance is a gradation of each movement so that it contributes to the whole experience.
As an example, the opening of the Gloria is as impressive as any performance you are ever likely to hear. However there is something 'held back' because at the end of the movement, when this material returns [transformed], the power of the music is substantially greater. In the fugue 'In Gloria Dei Patris' you hear the conflict in the music with savage accents which Bernstein brings out while maintaining dynamic terracing so you can hear the individual lines. In the 'Credo' the quiet sections are devout whilst in the fugue 'Et Vitam Venturi' the music clearly dances and the ever rising voices, syncopated with tied crotchets, induce a trance whereas in the latter part of the fugue the rhythmic power and abandon are beyond compare.
As wonderful as the fast and powerful sections of the music are played, I think Bernstein is most at home in the Sanctus and the Praeludium to the Benedictus, with his love of Mahler he must have felt particularly close to the Praeludium's melting texture yielding to a very innocent, transfigured song that Mahler aspired to but did not always achieve.If you do not know the work then this movement can best be imagined by thinking of the slow movement from Beethoven's violin concerto which has a similar mood.
The soloists and chorus are entirely up to this music. Their cadenzas at the end of 'Et Vitam Venturi' are very touching, they sound like lingering tender farewells.
The live performance clearly brings excitement to the playing and singing. This disk cannot be recommended highly enough.