Missa solemnis, Op.123
Symphony No.8 in B minor, D759 (Unfinished)
Eine Faust-Ouvertüre *
Teresa Stich-Randall (soprano)
Norma Proctor (contralto)
Richard Lewis (tenor)
Kim Borg (bass)
BBC Symphony Orchestra
BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra *
Missa solemnis recorded in BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London on 23 February 1961; Schubert recorded in the Royal Albert Hall, London on 15 September 1971; Wagner recorded in the University of Salford, Greater Manchester, on 23 April 1972
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: October 2004
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
BBCL 4150-2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 1 minute
More than 30 years after his death, important additions are still being made to the Horenstein discography. Now we have this fine Missa solemnis with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and a luxury quartet of soloists.
This Missa solemnis is doubly valuable not only because it is a work which Horenstein never recorded commercially but also because – as those weaned on his recording of Beethoven 9 or who heard him conduct Beethoven in the flesh can testify – he was undoubtedly one of the great Beethoven conductors. The outstanding characteristic of this performance is its certainty of tread. Everything moves forward inexorably to its appointed conclusion with muscularity and sensitivity. As the work reaches its resolution in the concluding ‘Agnus Dei’ one is somehow reminded of Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet (60) “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end” – such is the cathartic certainty behind the playing.
On this occasion Horenstein was blessed with a notably well-balanced quartet of soloists, and he had in fact performed the work some three years earlier at the Leeds Festival with essentially the same team, Lewis substituting at Maida Vale for Peter Pears.
It’s also worth remembering that Horenstein had started life conducting choirs and was a natural choral conductor – as Joel Lazar’s booklet-note states, Horenstein considered piano rehearsals with soloists and choir essential, even offering to take these sessions outside his contracted arrangements. There is an exceptional degree of unity between soloists and choir. The mono sound may be less than ideal but it is well balanced and Tony Faulkner has done a quite excellent job of re-mastering. The Mass’s opening ‘Kyrie’ is marked “Mit Andacht” – with devotion – a description which might apply to the performance as a whole.
The set also includes an equally valuable performance of the ‘Unfinished’ (stereo) taken from a Prom when it preceded a memorable Bruckner 5th Symphony, which is already available on BBC Legends (BBCL 4933-2). Besides a characteristic finesse over matters of dynamics, the performance is especially memorable for its sense of sustained momentum. This may be a familiar landscape, but there is nothing remotely comfortable about this particular journey. In the first movement development there is real menace and come the movement’s close there is the bleak aftertaste of a (young) lifetime’s bitter experience; a whole lifetime’s disillusionment seems compacted into the movement’s brief span. The Andante con moto is slow and rather grand, but succeeds through the sheer focus and concentration of the playing.
Last but not least is Wagner’s A Faust Overture (also stereo), a Horenstein speciality – he had recorded it for Vox nearly twenty years previously – and is here played with passion and commitment by the BBC Northern Symphony, the work sounding for all the world fully the equal Wagner’s better known overtures and preludes. An important release.