Beethoven: Missa Solemnis, Op 123

Reviewed on Fri 21 Apr, 2017

Daniel Reuss, who conducts a technically very accomplished performance, largely avoids extremes. Depth of feeling surrounds the Sanctus and Benedictus, but Reuss then backs away from the elemental force of the Agnus Dei.

“I know that God is nearer to me than to other artists; I associate with Him without fear.” Thus spake Beethoven – with certainty. But the Missa Solemnis expresses doubt too. Is it first intimated when this momentous work starts life on a weak beat? And why in the Gloria, described by Deryck Cooke (in The Language of Music) as “Beethoven at his very greatest; the music has a fierce white-hot vitality never known before”, does the opening fortissimo paean to the almighty spanning 42 bars suddenly drop to piano at the words ‘et in terra pax’? Had he little hope for humanity, the point also suggested when he emphasised the plea ‘miserere nobis’ with his own un-liturgical prefix ‘o’? Beethoven’s heartfelt, dramatic, and even operatic interpretation of the text is intensely differentiated. But Daniel Reuss, who conducts a technically very accomplished performance, largely avoids extremes. Examples of his middle-ground trajectory are a Kyrie too swift to convey devotion as required; a lack of inner feeling in the Gloria’s long section from Qui tollis to Quoniam, marked Larghetto; and the Credo’s magnificent fugal ‘Et vitam venturi’ that loses tension at a tempo faster than instructed. Depth of feeling surrounds the Sanctus and Benedictus, but Reuss then backs away from the elemental force of the Agnus Dei. Unflinching commitment comes from Arturo Toscanini 1939 (BBC Legends) & 1940 (Guild), Carlo Maria Giulini (Warner), Bernard Haitink (BR Klassik, reviewed 22 June 2015) and Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Sony Classical, reviewed 6 July 2016), who, individually, reveal the colossal nature of Beethoven’s vision.
–Nalen Anthoni