Notes & Reviews:
Ludwig van Beethoven himself called the Missa Solemnis his most complete work - and yes, the composition still ranks among the most popular works in the occidental art genre. Enoch zu Guttenberg knows how to interpret the multiple ideas of Beethoven, the numerous musical pictures, in a striking way. Human humility and divine dignity are vividly set against each other. Guttenberg interprets the dramatic parts of the mass with vigor, the intimate passages prayerfully. The KlangVerwaltung Choir and Orchestra translate the rapidly changing affects in a terrific way. Without noticeable effort Susanne Bernhard alternates smoothly between the dynamic extremes and Anke Vondung's strong alto is impressive. Devotional parts in particular really bring out the best in Pavol Breslik, an excellent oratorio tenor and York Felix Speers delights with his profound bass. Ludwig van Beethoven signed his work with the motto "From the heart – it shall again touch hearts". Enoch zu Guttenberg has taken this motto and made it the benchmark for his interpretation.
Beethoven's best remembered mass is given a stellar performance by an ensemble and soloists who may be largely unfamiliar to a lot of listeners. The three titanic "B"'s of classical music--Bach, Beethoven and Brahms--are so often trotted out together that they sometimes assume a monolithic identity which is frankly inappropriate, given their completely disparate temperaments, composing styles and oeuvres. There are always subtle links to be found between at least any two of the three--Brahms can easily be seen as a 19th century protean a la Bach, especially contrapuntally and structurally, and Beethoven and Brahms can certainly be seen as compositional brethren, perhaps due to their closeness in time. But really the differences between the three are more noticeable, especially when one starts to examine which forms any given composer exploited. Bach of course built so much of his compositional activity around the liturgical year, and many of his greatest masterpieces are religiously themed.
Beethoven and Brahms were rather infamous libertines, each in their own way, and so religious elements were less evident, at least on the surface, than in Johann Sebastian's output. While Bach has chorales, masses and oratorios seemingly by the handful, Brahms offers us only one large scale overtly religious piece, A German Requiem, while Beethoven penned only two masses, one (in C) which is largely forgotten and the other, Missa Solemnis, which has never attained the starry heights of its religiously themed sibling, the choral finale to the Ninth Symphony. This is a rather odd fact, one perhaps attributable as much to the vagaries of history and critical opinion as it is to any intrinsic worth of the mass itself. * It's perhaps more than a bit odd that Beethoven often gets saddled with critical brickbats when it comes to his vocal music, especially with regard to Fidelio, which the composer himself wrestled with quite openly. Beethoven perhaps doesn't write "easily" for the human voice, but there is no denying the power and authority to his vocal music; one need only point to the iconic "Ode to Joy" choral finale of the ninth for a supreme example of vocal writing, an example which rests comfortably atop the rather formidable pile of 19th century choral writing. But Beethoven may have been insecure in his own vocal compositional efforts leading to a relative dearth of output in this arena. Listening to the Missa Solemnis can be absolutely revelatory, therefore, as plangent lines pour out of the soloists against a formidable orchestral onslaught and choral interludes * The Missa has been one of the most strangely neglected of Beethoven's pieces, one which famously came to as recondite an ensemble as the New York Philharmonic as late as 1934. In the ensuing decades, the piece has been recorded by virtually every conductor of note, including a number of fairly recent period instrument recordings. Here Conductor Enoch zu Guttenberg leads the Orchester and Kammerchor der KlangVerwaltung in a stately yet exuberant interpretation that is less staid than a lot of previous interpretations, but which still attains an architectural grandeur that is overwhelming at times.
While this particular orchestra and its conductor may not exactly be household names, the players come from the front rank of Europe's finest orchestras, and that level of expertise is quite evident in this forceful performance * The soloists here are also probably not household names - yet. My hunch is they soon will be. Soprano Susanne Bernhard is from Munich and has a glut of major operatic roles already under her young belt. Mezzo Anke Vondung (here singing alto) also has an impressive opera resume and is fast becoming a star of the first order on the concert tour circuit. Yorck Felix Speer is a German bass with a deeply burnished low register which brings an elegant poignancy to Beethoven's famous "Agnus Dei". But the standout on this recording is undeniably the incredible tenor Pavol Breslik, possessor of one of the most crystalline and liquid voices it's been my great pleasure to experience. Breslik elegantly tears into his material here, often just shy of being almost vicious, as in his gorgeous work in the "Credo".
Beethoven was an uncompromising idealist, and that colored both his relationship with his own personal God, against whom he obviously raged regularly, and also with the demands he put upon the musicians called upon to interpret his music. We're so inured to the genius of Beethoven by this time that we often forget how revolutionary his work was in his own time. That rabble-rousing spirit is perhaps nowhere more in evidence than in his vocal music, which still pushes the technical limits of singers often to the breaking point. It's all the more noteworthy (no pun intended) that a relatively lesser known ensemble with a frankly very young solo quartet should deliver such a devastatingly effective performance of this very demanding piece.
Beethoven may indeed have only written two masses, but there is so much musical and emotional import poured into even just the Missa Solemnis to make it worthy of a lifetime of repeated listening. This performance makes that duty a pleasure."- Jeffrey Kauffman
Submitted on 08/20/10 by J. Chung
Works DetailsBeethoven, Ludwig van : Missa solemnis in D major, Op. 123
- Performers: Anke Vondung (Alto); Yorck Speer (Bass); Pavol Breslik (Tenor); Susane Bernhard (Soprano)
- Conductor: Enoch Guttenberg
- Ensemble: Kammerchor und Orchester der KlangVerwaltung
- Period Time: Classical
- Form: Choral
- Written: 1819-1823