|BBC Proms - Beethoven's Missa Solemnis|
The Guardian by Tim Ashley, 27 August 2014
Prom 54: ORR/Monteverdi Choir/Gardiner review – the demands of Missa Solemnis were thrillingly met
Royal Albert Hall, London
John Eliot Gardiner brought tremendous force to Beethoven's massive work
"You have to be attracted to the fire in Beethoven to do this work," John Eliot Gardiner remarked ahead of his late-night performance of the Missa Solemnis with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and Monteverdi Choir. This was an evening of anniversaries: the 50th of the choir's founding, the 25th of the founding of the ORR and 30th time Gardiner has conducted the work in public. Yet the Missa Solemnis also belongs with the first world war centenary. One of the many ideas posited by this immense work is that war is humanity's ultimate refutation of the idea of God. Time hasn't blunted its political relevance.
It hasn't blunted the impact of Gardiner's familiar interpretation, either. Numinosity and urgency course through it in equal measure. Textural clarity, conferred by period instruments and a smaller choir than usual, remind us of the depth and range of Beethoven's orchestral writing. There is real awe in the strings as they usher in the Benedictus. The insistent brass, rarely absent from the score, suggest both God's infinite majesty and man's potential for violence. Contrary to opinion, Gardiner's speeds are not so much fast as extreme: in the Sanctus and the consoling Et Vitam Venturi fugue, he's slower than some.
The colossal demands the work makes on its performers were thrillingly realised by choir and orchestra. The fine quartet of soloists included hieratic mezzo Jennifer Johnston and outstanding tenor Michael Spyres. Some, myself included, might prefer bigger forces and a greater sense of the monumental – the one thing this performance isn't, after all, is solemn. But that's ultimately a matter of taste and doesn't diminish the integrity of Gardiner's interpretation – or its often tremendous force.
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