LPO/Eschenbach – Missa Solemnis

Beethoven
Mass in D, Op.123 (Missa solemnis)

Anne Schwanewilms (soprano), Annette Jahns (mezzo-soprano), Nikolai Schukoff (tenor) & Dietrich Henschel (bass)

London Philharmonic Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Christoph Eschenbach


Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 18 October, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

A great or even a very good performance of “Missa solemnis”, one of the great masterpieces of the 19th (or any other) century, is rare. It’s not just the huge technical demands the work places on performers, but also the sheer stamina required maintaining the fervour of Beethoven’s musical and religious vision.

Christoph Eschenbach. Photograph: Eric Brissaud Christoph Eschenbach’s interpretation was a case in point. Inspired in parts, wayward and lacking in focus in others, it was a performance highlighting all the pitfalls that this work can throw up. The opening ‘Kyrie’ was promising enough, tender and concentrated with flowing tempos, the devotional feel beautifully captured by the London Philharmonic Choir.

The opening of the ‘Gloria’ was swift and bitingly intense with glowing work from the chorus, the sopranos rising magnificently to the formidable musical challenges. A shame then that Eschenbach wasn’t able to maintain that intensity into the second section. The level of concentration flagged, the tension dropped making it difficult to pick up the momentum into the fugue which lacked rhythmic thrust. Similar problems afflicted the ‘Credo’, the opening theme sounding uninspired. At times Eschenbach’s sense of direction seem to desert him leaving the movement shapeless and the London Philharmonic out of step. The recapitulation into the main theme at the end was uttered with barely a whimper and was not the massive assertion of faith this music is meant to represent.

The ‘Sanctus’ was better due in great part to some rapt playing from the LPO’s leader Pieter Schoeman in the long violin solo. Conductor and orchestra had now regained tension and a sense of purpose. The ‘Agnus Dei’ was suitably solemn, a prayer for forgiveness, yet the military drums and fanfares which punctuate the prayer have been a little bit more dramatic.

Of the soloists, Anne Schwanewilms was sweet and utterly secure in the upper registers, Nikolai Schukoff was full of fervour and made light of the considerable vocal demands, Dietrich Henschel, a last-minute replacement for Robert Holl, sounded a little under-rehearsed, his contribution to the ‘Agnus Dei’ being a trifle hesitant and unsure, and Annette Jahns sounded tired and lacked projection.


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