Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Orchestra: London Symphonie Orchestra
Conductor: Sir Colin Davis
Number of Discs: 1 SACD-R
Bit Depth: 64(2.8 MHz/1 Bit)
Number of channels: 5.0, 2.0
Label: LSO Live
Size: 3.7 GB
Sir Colin Davis, London Symphonie Orchestra
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827): Mass in C
Mass in C:
06. Agnus Dei
07. Fidelio: O welche Lust!
Sally Matthews (soprano)
Sara Mingardo (alto)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
Alastair Miles (bass)
London Symphony Chorus
DSD recording, what the LSO calls ‘high-density recording technology.’
SA-CD.net review by Geohominid January 14, 2010:
Beethoven was a deeply religious man, but wanted nothing to do with the Clergy or the established Church, which he viewed as obscuring his personal relationship with God. He only produced 2 sacred works; the present Mass in C &, some 16 years later, the great masterpiece of his Missa Solemnis, which has unfortunately cast the earlier Mass aside.
How did Beethoven come to write his 1st work for the Church? It was initiated by a commission from Prince Nicolaus Esterházy II, who wanted a Mass for the name-day of his wife. As the Prince’s Kapellmeister, Haydn had been providing this music, notable the last 6 great masses, but was by then a retired septuagenarian. For several years, the Prince employed fashionable Viennese favourites Fuchs & Hummel to compose the celebratory works, but in 1807 he turned to Beethoven, whose reputation, based on the success of the young tyro’s 1st 4 symphonies, was in the ascendant.
Beethoven at that time was in the heated process of writing his 5th Symphony, & may have seen the commission as a welcome (more restful) diversion. He based his score on examples by his former master Haydn, but whereas Haydn had produced mostly vivid & colourful works, with operatic solos & exuberant choruses, Beethoven followed his own heart & religious inclinations in providing a work which was mostly contemplative & gently lyrical. The Prince was frankly disgusted with Beethoven’s Mass in C, telling Beethoven as much & dismissing it in letters to his friends. Beethoven, of course, was deeply affronted, & the work lay unpublished for many years until he finally re-dedicated it to 1 of his own sympathetic sponsors.
My touchstone performance of the Mass in C is the incandescent RBCD by Gardiner. Compared with Gardiner’s Haydn-sized Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique & the medium-sized Monteverdi Choir, Davis of course has the full-strength LSO & its Chorus, who together would just about have filled the Bergkirche at Eisenstadt, where the masses were performed. Such large forces often incur problems of momentum, & this is notable in relative timings, with Gardiner being nearly 3 minutes faster than Davis in the Gloria & a minute or so faster in the Credo.
Gardiner’s forces have tremendous attack & spirit, nuance the gentler music with natural flow. Their fugal endings to the Gloria & Credo are fiery & carry great rhythmic impetus, compared with Davis & his choir, where the Gloria’s ‘Quoniam’ in particular is metrical & rather dull. The choir, however, sing quite well in the more lyrical sections, & the very experienced solo quartet members are very good, reacting to each other’s lines impeccably. Tenor John Mark Ainsley’s voice is, however, becoming a little grainy & some strain is evident in reaching for Beethoven’s high tessitura. Sir Colin of course encourages everyone with his own crooning, although this is not particularly distracting. Overall, this performance, although of a very good standard for a live audience, seems to me to have more than a touch of ‘Choral Society’ about it, whereas Gardiner’s version simply takes fire, has much more light & shade & shows what a marvellous work the Mass in C really is.
Gardiner is also aided by a more transparent recording which allows the winds & brass, better balanced against a smaller string section, to come through more effectively. The performance has an appealing ambience, enabling the climaxes to expand thrillingly. LSO Live are still handicapped by the desiccating Barbican venue, & although rear speakers on the Mch track add a welcome touch more resonance, there is still little focussed front-to-back perspective.
Most albums of the Mass in C have several useful fillers; Gardiner offers the miraculous Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (an impressionistic tone poem for choir & orchestra) & the concert aria ‘Ah perfido!’, Op.65. LSO Live come up with the strangest of bedfellows for the Mass – the ‘Prisoner’s Chorus’ taken from their previous complete Fidelio. Here the recording is much closer & even drier, with the opening barely audible, diction is often muffled & violins oddly cut through the textures, desperately wanting in bloom.
All in all, a worthy offering at medium price, attractive if you are looking for this marvellous & neglected piece of Beethoven on SACD. My personal preference, however, is Gardiner’s revelatory one, in more flattering sound.
~Copyright © 2010 John Miller and SA-CD.net
It’s not clear exactly what the “live” component is in this disc from the London Symphony Orchestra’s LSO Live series. The Beethoven Mass in C major, Op. 86, & the “Prisoners’ Chorus” from Fidelio are specified as having been recorded live on 2 different occasions at London’s Barbican concert hall, but if there was an audience any traces of its existence have been very carefully edited out. The performance, however, has the positive tension associated with a successful live performance, as well as the occasional flaws. Colin Davis, nearly 80 when the recording was made, turns in a fine interpretation of the work that was called “unbearably ridiculous & detestable” by Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II, patron of the aged Haydn & the commissioner, as well as of his 6 late masses. A good performance of the mass will get at why the prince didn’t like it: it fits the model of the late Haydn masses, but, at every point where Haydn went for confident, crowd-pleasing moves, it takes on an interior quality. The music has to have both a festive tone & the personal feel that distinguishes almost all of Beethoven’s music. Davis delivers the right kind of contrast, a bit splashy, yet with conviction in the big fugues & the rather unorthodox layout of the Credo. He is helped by a stellar quartet of soloists, most notably the fabulous Italian alto Sara Mingardo. The pairing with the “Prisoners’ Chorus,” although it wasn’t part of the original concert, is an intelligent stroke: Davis shows the connections between the Mass in C major & Fidelio, both of which kept Beethoven away from his customary sonata forms but which contained deep personal statements nevertheless. A very strong candidate for any buyer wanting a 1st copy of Beethoven’s 1st mass setting.