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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big complex chest pounding late Beethoven...
This piece and this recording are simply astounding. It's big, heavy, sweaty, pining Beethoven with the added bonus of complexity. Not that this is a bad thing, but this piece is paticularly hard to get one's musical mind around, which probably explains why it's not as popular as some of his archetypal symphonies (5th, 6th, 9th). Unlike some of Beethoven's more overtly...
Published on March 21, 2004 by ewomack

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best of the period performances
I agree with those who find this one of Gardiner's more convincing recordings, and one of his most influential outside the Baroque period. It was startling when it first came out to find that the Missa Solemnis could take only 71 min. instead of the usual 79 min. (Klemperer) or 83 min. (Karajan on EMI). Now the slower traditional tempos can sound a bit logy...
Published on October 9, 2005 by Santa Fe Listener


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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big complex chest pounding late Beethoven..., March 21, 2004
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
This piece and this recording are simply astounding. It's big, heavy, sweaty, pining Beethoven with the added bonus of complexity. Not that this is a bad thing, but this piece is paticularly hard to get one's musical mind around, which probably explains why it's not as popular as some of his archetypal symphonies (5th, 6th, 9th). Unlike some of Beethoven's more overtly thematic work, this one needs to sink in slowly and settle in a comfortable spot in the psyche until it unleashes it's full spectrum of power, beauty, and richness.
Part of the issue is that the piece was written over a number of years (1819-1823); enough years for Beethoven to develop in substantial ways. Consequently, the earlier movements have a different character than the later ones. But wait there's more: Beethoven also originally conceived this project (at least, according to a few sources) as a more traditional religious piece - he apparentely studied church music history with a vengeance, and this study manifests itself throughout the Mass. The goals apparently changed through the years, since the Kyrie and the Gloria have a more - relatively - traditional, classical feel to them, and the later movements are more moody and romantic (contrast the Gloria to the Sanctus and the differences stick out like escargot in a burger joint).
Partly for the reasons above, and partly due to the length of each individual section (the Kyrie is the shortest at just under 9 minutes, and the Credo is the longest at just over 17 minutes) this piece seems best ingested and approached one section at a time, rather than as one big lump sum total. This way the distinctiveness of each part is emphasized, and the listener is not lost in the progression (not always is there a clear indication that a movement has ended, and often I find myself - while listening casually - wondering if I'm in the Gloria or the Sanctus, or the Agnus Dei - the Credo stands out the most due to the very demonstrative marching and pounding theme that runs through it, and the singing of "Credo Credo" is the most sing-along phrase of the entire work - I sometimes catch myself belting out a "Credo Credo" when I least expect or want it to happen).
Another FAQ about the Missa Solemnis (or "Solemn Mass" or "Mass in D") is it's utilty: did Beethoven write it for religious or secular reasons (or: is it more like Brahm's Requiem or more like Bach's Passions)? It's one of those fascinating, corpus callosum splitting questions that provides much stimulus without much resolution. It doesn't appear that Beethoven was a practicing Christian in the traditional 18th century sense (i.e., he didn't go to mass regularly), but he has been quoted as saying that he wanted this Mass to incite religious feelings in the audience. But "religious" is only a somewhat kind of loaded and relative term. The other big spear of contention is the Credo itself: does Beethoven run through the major Catholic creeds in record time out of respect or disrespect? There are salient arguments on both sides of all these issues, and since Beethoven doesn't have too much to say about it these days, we're left with semingly nullifying arguments.
Religious or not, it's an amazing work that takes work to appreciate. This work pays off in droves and droves and piles of droves. You'll be drowning in droves. The Kyrie's harmonizations (how many voices resolve to a single voice that finishes the phrase) are astounding; the beginning of the Sanctus has to be up there with some of the most beautiful and ethereal of Beethoven's sounds; the Agnus Dei is one of those great musical finishes that is even more appreciable once the entire is grasped. These are just a paltry few of the highlights of the Mass.
This CD is arguably one of Sir John Eliot Gardiner's (don't forget the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque soloists) greatest achievements. Any Beethoven fan will jump in and happily drown in the sonorous splendor that is this disc. Excuse me while I dive...
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92 of 109 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not as good as it gets., December 23, 1999
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
The GRAMOPHONE went over the board to praise this recording giving it the Record of the Year Award. Well, we all know the English love each other... Sir John's performance is rather martial, certainly well rehearsed and very well played, but it just lacks the ultimate in humanity to make it really moving. The Missa Solemnis has been lucky lately. Nikolaus Harnoncourt's recording in TELDEC is even more poignant and moving than Gardiner's, but played with modern instruments. James Levine surprised everyone with his extraordinary live Salzburg recording, this is not yet another glossy DG affair, but a serious, deeply felt reading. But best of all, another live recording, comes from Harmonia Mundi. Philippe Herreweghe is one of the most spiritual and interesting conductors of our Time, raised in Bach and in Renaissance music, he has an extraordinary feeling for choral works, and his loving, enormous performance, raises like a great Cathedral to the skies. This is by far the most beautiful and moving Missa Solemnis ever recorded.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best of the period performances, October 9, 2005
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
I agree with those who find this one of Gardiner's more convincing recordings, and one of his most influential outside the Baroque period. It was startling when it first came out to find that the Missa Solemnis could take only 71 min. instead of the usual 79 min. (Klemperer) or 83 min. (Karajan on EMI). Now the slower traditional tempos can sound a bit logy.

Critical reaction, especially in the UK, was wildly enthusiastic on the musical side, and The Gramophne bestowed honors. In retrospect, Gardiner's driving pace and clipped rhythms exchanged eloquence for dynamism, reverence for immediate impact. But that has been his pattern in Bach, too, so if you want period-style trimness and a complete lack of traditional spiritual grandeur, this recording is better sung than the equally fast Missa Solemnis from Zinman (Arte Nova). Gardiner's choir is expert and gives a nice clarity to both words and notes. The solo quartet is surprisingly good given that it contains no stars, but one should be warned that the recording is screechy and harsh in climaxes.

P.S. -- I should steer listeners toward a far more inspired HIP version of the Missa Solemnis under Philippe Herreweghe, a recording I was unaware of when writing this review.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No adequate way to summarize this incredible recording, September 10, 1999
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
The Missa Solemnis sunk into my head slowly, which I've found to be the case with many other things that are near to my heart. That being said, it has been two years since I first heard Gardiner's Missa. And for all this time, it has been the CD that I play in my car from the time I insert the key to the time I remove it. Why? Because no matter how much you listen to this absolutely wonderful recording, there always seems to be more to love. You can thank Beethoven for this. It took years for him to complete the score, and he himself considered it his greatest masterpiece (I agree). You can also thank Gardiner, who has brought out texture in the work that I'm sure many will never know existed if they never hear this recording. Gardiner uses a small group of highly trained singers. The beauty of the work is seered into your memory with crisp precision.
I can not recommend this recording more highly and would enjoy hearing from anyone who is considering purchasing it.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gardiner becomes Beethoven, November 16, 2001
By 
Juan Carlos Garelli (Buenos Aires, City of Buenos Aires, Argentina) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
I find this version to be quite in accord to Beethoven's emphasis on PEACE. Sir Eliot Gardiner becomes so imbued of the appeal to peace implicit in this monumental composition that he leaves any wish of personal acclaim to focus on the essentials of Beethoven's deeply felt beseech for a European Peace. So badly needed at the time.
Much has been written about this monumental work of the maestro; much has been argued about its status as a true liturgy work for the church or its profane character; Even more has been speculated about Ludwig's actual religious feelings.
Facts have it that the Mass was written for use in church: it was composed for the installation of Beethoven's friend Archduke Rudolf as Cardinal-Archbishop of Olomouc. In early 1819 Beethoven wrote: "The day on which a High Mass composed by me is performed during the celebrations for Your Imperial Highness will be the finest day of my life, and God will inspire me so that my poor abilities may contribute to the glorification of this solemn day." Solemn, humble, words, no doubt, which witty Ludwig had long proved possessed both the timing and the rhetoric to proffer.
On the other hand, we know that Beethoven was particularly anxious to perform this work in Vienna, at least in part. As there was a strict prohibition against performing even parts of the Mass in a secular context, he gave these parts a German text. So parts of the Mass did make it to the concert hall, for example on the same day as the first performance of his Ninth Symphony.
Furthermore, critics have put in doubt the liturgical context of the Missa Solemnis on account of the speed with which Beethoven passes over the passage "Credo in unam sancta catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam", generally seen as evidence of critical Catholicism or even his doubts about the church. ...
WAR
For instance, a key passage in the Mass is the recitative in the Agnus Dei. At first only dry beats on the timpani are heard. No music... just timpani thuds... What is it?... what is it?... where are we?... We are in the middle of nowhere, we are in the middle of terror, we are in the middle of war. Then the trumpets give a signal, smoothly, threateningly, the strings play a figure that is gooseflesh set to music. Then the alto soloist cries out fearfully: "Agnus Dei, miserere nobis" (Lamb of God, have mercy upon us). This cry is then taken up by the other soloists, resolving into complete calm, into well-ordered music: "Dona nobis pacem" (Give us peace). This is one of the most remarkable passages in the whole Mass, but I repeat, on the whole, the entire Mass is an appeal for peace.
This struggle for peace is also recognizable in the "Christe eleison". "Eleison" and "miserere nobis" mean the same: have mercy upon us, help us, don't leave us alone. Beethoven believed in his heart of hearts that sweetly, devotedly and devoutedly supplicating beseeching heartrending calls can wrench the best qualities of anybody or any power exhibiting a fearful authoritarian, violent stance, that is why he relentlessly strove to show his heart wide open, to make the powers of peace and brotherhood prevail over splitting, fighting and warring.
Gardiner makes the choir shout
Later on there is a similar passage, the fastest of the whole work, after the "Dona nobis pacem" (give us peace), a passage that resembles concert or symphonic music rather than a mass because of its strenuously battle-like overtones, at the end of which the chorus cries out in despair: "Agnus, agnus dei", very, very fast indeed. Has anybody ever heard an Agnus Dei shouted in church music? This cry is concerned with war and martial music. The cry finally blends into a prayer: Dona pacem (give us peace).
In bar 96 of the Agnus Dei, Beethoven scribbled: "prayer for peace within and without". What is the meaning of "peace within", and of "peace without". Can you harbour any doubt that peace without means no war? For peace within means no hostilities at home, whereas peace without stands for no hostilities in between countries, outside the bounds of the countries. It would be unimaginable to envisage the passage with trumpets and timpani in the Agnus Dei from bar 164 onwards deals with peace without. On the other hand, no peace within surely stands for the overflown tragedies that surpassed any degree of control and suffer under the aegis of chaos. A city in flames. its houses turned to debris, lost children and parents bodes ill for the future of such injured communities: Agnus Dei from bar 266 onwards represents inner turmoil which at least demands our devoutest prayers for inner peace, and surely call for action to relief the victims.
Tempi
Beethoven used many different tempi in this work, slightly less than Mozart used in an opera. In virtually every major work of Mozart's we find a basic tempo which he constantly reverts to. Conversely, in Beethoven's Mass, almost every tempo occurs only once in each section.
Beethoven seems to have been at some pains to describe his tempi (don't let's forget that by the time he was 50, he tended more and more to leave less and less to the incidental performer's chance decision. A striking example is Hammerklavier's "adagio sostenuto e con molto sentimento", where even unsatisfied by his unambiguous statement at the beginning of the movement, when the sensuous, tender, highly vibrating famous passage comes round, he adds: for the first voice, played by the right hand "cantando con intensità", and for both hands: "con grande espressione e libertà" ...
It has often been said that if Beethoven had been aware of later technical improvements, such as the valve horn, he would have composed the whole Missa differently.
He could also have changed a good deal in the vocal writing, e.g., leaving out the very high notes in the chorus. He could have set some of them lower. He might have chosen different keys; then everything would have been performed effortlessly and smoothly. The audible effort, the strain, even those aspects of the score that go wrong are essential aspects of Beethoven's particular aesthetics.
Gardiner
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elliot at His Best, December 9, 1999
By 
"bigmikedc" (Sugar Hill, GA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
John Elliot Gardner and the Montervdi Choir have done a masterful work with Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. It is as accurate a performance as one can expect and it also constantly delivers a lively majesty in spirituality. I particularly enjoy the Agnus Dei performed by Alastair Miles. It is both solemn and gratifying at the same time. The horns pull off a wonderful job throughout the Credo movement. The Gloria proves to be nothing short of exciting and exhilararting. Overall, an incredible CD!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Agree with pepechenique!!, February 8, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
I agree with pepechenique that Gardiner's Missa is rather martial. Gardiner's Missa is kind of a glitzy affair because Gramophone praised it to the skies, and gave it 2 awards - Choral Award & Record of the year Award. It certainly has its merits - orchestral playing and a chorus that is astonishing in its virtuosity. But you know what? Like pepechenique, I found it kind of martial - it is superbly played no doubt but it is lacking in its ability to move. The playing is rather bland. Just listen to Klemperer's recording, which is fantastically intense. Or Solti's first recording - which though it puts the soloists unduly in the spotlight, has a 'feeling' which is missing here. However, the biggest surprise for me was Solti's SECOND recording with the Berlin Philharmonic. That recording topped it off. It is the best I have heard - for me, it certainly outshines this Missa and Solti's first recording.
Solti's 2nd recording has the distinction that the balance between chorus, soloists and orchestra is superb. For once, you can actually hear the orchestra in many parts of the Gloria, Credo and Sanctus with the chorus, whereas in other recordings, the orchestra inevitably gets swamped by the chorus when the chorus comes in at full force. And the Berlin Philharmonic is at its virtuosistic best!! They play magnificently - and when I say they are magnificent, they are MAGNIFICENT!! I agree with Gramophone's assessment that the soloists (Varady, Vermillon, Cole and Pape) give the impression of listening to each other and knowing their 'ebb and flow' in the piece - when they are important and when they should recede. THIS is really rare. PLUS all 4 soloists sing very beautifully - none of them are trying to 'stand out' but take their place dutifully (as they should) in the fabric of the whole piece. One of Solti's great attributes as a conductor was his constant development as a musician. In his second recording, he surpasses his first recording in the understanding of the architecture of the piece. In his recording, some parts of the Missa drag somewhat and doesn't quite gel together. Here, his understanding is total. The parts flow logically from one to the next, there's no unduly slow tempi, and for the first time in my history of listening to the Missa Solemnis, I actually UNDERSTAND the architecture of the piece as a whole. I used to listen to sections without seeing the big picture, now I see the big picture of the Missa in Solti's 2nd.
Gardiner, in my view, has missed some of the insights in Solti's second recording. As another example, in the Et Vitam Venturi fugue, Solti's transition from the slow to the fast and back to the slow is fantastic. When he ends the fast section (which is as fast as Gardiner's - maybe a few seconds slower), you still feel the forward momentum of the music. In Gardiner's case, the transition from slow to fast is splendid (but any conductor can do that). But when he ends the fast section, I feel that the music stalls somewhat.
I shall keep searching for the perfect Missa Solemnis (which doesn't exist).
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Brassy, September 12, 2007
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
I have enjoyed many Gardiner recordings over the years, beginning over twenty years ago with his excellent Handel Hercules. I admit I am not a fanatic of period instruments, but I recogize how they have contributed wonderfully to many performances of baroque music, and have even served well for some later works. An example of this is Gardiner's recording of Schumann's Paradise and the Peri. (Do yourself a favor and check out the Nachtlied on that CD. It's magical.)

But I find this recording of Beethoven's great mass to be period instruments at their most appalling. Particularly objectionable are the "period" brass -- buzzy, blaring, and overwhelmingly noisy. Literally overwhelming, as in the great fugal close of the Gloria where the brass double the vocal parts and render the chorus virtually inaudible.

Apart from this gross distortion of balance and tone, there is something spiritually wanting in this performance, as for example, the sublime ending of the Benedictus performed in a very perfunctory manner.

By the way, I agree with a prior reveiwer that the "Pleni sunt coeli" needs to be given to the chorus to reveal the true glory of the music.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gardiner does it again, December 24, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
I remember the words of the reviewer in the distinguished English periodical "Gramophone" who had just written a chapter on "Missa Solemnis" for a book on choral recordings - they were to the effect of "If I'd heard this version before the chapter went to press, I'd have written it completely differently". Amen to that. No other version comes close, and that's saying something, considering that some very distinguished folk (Karajan, Klemperer) have done it. Gardiner fills it with fire and passion which is often spine-chilling. Absolutely marvellous! My loans of the disc to friends don't last long, because they promptly rush out and buy their own!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Et Vitam Venturi, January 11, 2004
This review is from: Beethoven: Missa Solemnis (Audio CD)
Listen to the Et Vitam Venturi Fugue. You'll be so astonished that you'll never want to hear Et Vitem Venturi by another choir. The Monteverdi Choir is simply astonishing. I don't think Gramophone went overboard. This is a truly great recording.
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Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
Beethoven: Missa Solemnis by Ludwig van Beethoven (Audio CD - 1991)
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