Jennifer Rowley (soprano), Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), Roderick Dixon (tenor) & Eric Owens (bass-baritone)
Philadelphia Symphonic Choir
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 8 April, 2022
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
This concert concluded the Philadelphia Orchestra’s year-long Beethoven series at Carnegie Hall with Yannick Nézet-Séguin leading an exhilarating performance of the Missa solemnis. Fast speeds were the rule in an account which highlighted the drama of the liturgy and imbued it with extraordinary passion and grandeur.
Beethoven’s writing puts great demands on singers and the quartet of operatically inclined soloists were more than adequately equipped to meet the daunting challenges posed in this, the composer’s greatest symphonic choral work. Jennifer Rowley’s vibrant and vigorous soprano wafted through the hall, soaring above the thickest musical textures with ease. Roderick Dixon’s bright and agile tenor was deftly deployed, most notably in the Credo, where the phrase ‘et homo factus est’ resonated with abounding lyricism. Karen Cargill’s robust and expressive mezzo commanded attention and brought lovely color to her solo turns, and Eric Owens’s authoritative bass-baritone was especially majestic at the beginning of the Agnus Dei.
Like the soloists, the seventy-member Philadelphia Symphonic Choir, splendidly prepared by Amanda Quist, sang throughout with great strength and fine diction, great skill and panache. The choristers were most exciting in the monumental fugues – the fervent conclusion of the Gloria, and the dramatic ‘Et vitam venturi’ at the end of the Credo.
The demands Beethoven’s exacting piece places on the players are no less than those made on the singers. The orchestra’s playing was superb, whether slow and stately or fast and furious. There were many instrumental highlights, including the closing fugue of the Gloria taken at an electrifying pace, the rich and impassioned sound of the strings in the Sanctus, and the rumblings of the timpani in the Agnus Dei, but the standout was the transcendent violin solo of the Benedictus, exquisitely rendered by concertmaster David Kim.
Nézet-Séguin’s enthusiastic and energetic conducting brought enormous power and conviction to this masterpiece. This was an inspired and altogether thrilling reading that drew out all the music’s dramatic contrasts of dynamic to deliver a compelling and consistently moving statement of Beethoven’s most heartfelt spiritual sentiment.