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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, Collegium Vocale Gent, Philippe Herreweghe

Many years ago for one reason or other I nabbed tickets to hear Beethoven's Missa Solemnis sung by a very reputable choral organization. I asked somebody I knew slightly to join me. It was a last-minute thing but she accepted. So we went. Afterwards I was eager to know what she thought, since I was single and determined to end up with somebody that appreciated good music.

"So, did you like it?" I asked. "No," she replied disarmingly, "I didn't." She didn't. I thought to myself. Then I thought a bit more. Come to think of it, I didn't like it much, either.

We went our separate ways. That was that. But for many years I listened to various versions of the work and never could quite get with it. Of all of Beethoven's mature masterworks, it has proved most difficult for me to get into. Why?

The answer came to me as I first started listening to a new recording of the work by Philippe Herreweghe, conducting the Collegium Vocale Gent and the Orchestra des Champs Elysees (Outhere 007). It takes a visionary performance to allow the work to breathe. Transparent. Passionate. Herreweghe and company give us that, an "Ode to Joy" sort of version, ecstatic, enthusiastic, articulate.

I've heard and still have some rather famous older recordings and they never convinced me. Perhaps it was that they were a little too solemn. There is such a thing. Even the funeral movement of the Eroica Symphony soars in the best hands. So should the Solemnis Mass.

The Collegium Vocale/Herreweghe version does that. It soars aloft, with beautiful synchronicity of soloists, choir and orchestra. If you have loved Beethoven but never seemed to get with the Solemnis, this version may do for you what it did for me. It is quite stirring!

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