With John Eliot Gardiner having given one sort of performance of the Missa solemnis at the Proms this summer, the London Philharmonic Orchestra has delved into its archive to bring out another Proms account of the work of a rather different vintage – with Georg Solti in 1982.
It captures much of the grandeur and gravity of what is very far from an orthodox or liturgically viable setting of the Mass. A steady approach to the opening ‘Kyrie’ gives way to a more flowing “Christe eleison”, and in the middle of the reprise of the ‘Kyrie’, the chromatic lines are beautifully sinewy. A sudden burst of unrestrained joy opens the ‘Gloria’, but the Edinburgh Festival Chorus maintains superb tonal precision and momentum throughout, as also across this movement’s final sequence of the “In Gloria Dei patris” fugue (delivered as a mighty wall of sound), the “Amen”, and the return of the opening acclamations on “Gloria”.In the subsequent movements, however, there is a tendency for the interpretation to become too stolid and complacent. The fugue on “Et vitam venture” starts somewhat cautiously, like a coy dance, but the faster section could have been a touch brisker to point up the dramatic contrast. The “Praeludium” of the ‘Sanctus’ swirls luminously, though not perhaps with sufficient awe in order to invoke the heavenly host, as intended. There are darker, more desperate versions of the minor-key section of the ‘Agnus Dei’ to be heard, and finally the appearance of the war-like trumpets and drums is too slow and stately to sound at all like a menacing threat or reminder of warfare.
On the positive side, there is a clear sense of narrative in the ‘Credo’, for instance the thrusting sforzandos in the “Crucifixus” section (surely depicting the nails going into Christ’s limbs) and the blazing trumpets in the final “Et vitam venture” section, demonstrating a rather Handelian influence here. The humanity of the prayer in the “Benedictus” is brought out by guest-leader Ronald Thomas’s violin contribution, together with the vocal soloists; of the latter, Siegfried Jerusalem stands out for the compassionate nobility of his contribution throughout. The other singers are fine, though Doris Soffel sometimes sounds a little acidic.
The sound is well balanced: the microphones seem to have been placed close enough to the considerable forces involved without losing a sense of the broader space beyond them in the Royal Albert Hall, but not swamping them, either, with the void of that vast acoustic. This release does not displace such yardsticks as those set down by Klemperer or Colin Davis, but Solti fans will not be disappointed, and aficionados of this work will be impressed by the consistent excellence of the Chorus.