BEETHOVEN: Mass in C Major, Op. 86; Ah! Perfido, Op. 65; Ne’giorni tuol felici, WoO 93; Tremate, empi, tremati, Op. 116 – Solists/ Corydon Singers/ Corydon Orchestra/Matthew Best – Helios

by | Dec 11, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Mass in C Major, Op. 86; Ah! Perfido, Op. 65; Ne’giorni tuol felici, WoO 93; Tremate, empi, tremati, Op. 116 – Janice Watson, soprano/ Jean Rigby, mezzo-soprano/ John Mark Ainsley, tenor/ Gwynne Howell, bass/ Corydon Singers/ Corydon Orchestra/ Matthew Best

Helios CDH55263, 74:29 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:

For record collectors, it was likely Sir Thomas Beecham who made Beethoven’s infrequently performed Mass in C Major (1807) available for their aesthetic pleasure through his EMI recording. The present inscription by Matthew Best dates from 23-25 September 1995. Beethoven took the commission from Prince Esterhazy fully cognizant that his skills in sacred music needed refinement, quite conscious that the substantial opera by Haydn in this medium would be the yardstick by which his own efforts would be measured. Beethoven chose a course both conventional and highly subjective.

Beethoven, somewhat in anticipation of technique he would employ in his C Minor Symphony, employs his themes for the Kyrie as a kind of cyclic binding force, moving as it does from a plea for mercy to a statement of acceptance in the Dona nobis pacem. The Credo, as it would in the Missa Solemnis ten years later, proves the most dramatic moment, opening in doubt and then leaping with a rapid crescendo to a declaration of faith. Fugal and coloratura passages abound, often in muscular, passionate harmony and orchestration. The combination of bass voice and tympani after Et resurrexit in the Credo leads to some triumphant figures and lovely interchanges among members of the vocal quartet. The fugue at Et iterum venturus through the final Amen enjoys a lithe transparency of filigree certainly worthy of Haydn and Mozart. The a cappella opening of the Sanctus, prior to the tympani rolls and string entry, evokes the world of Palestrina. At Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua the illumination of spirit suffuses everything. The only shade of doubt to come later occurs in the Agnus Dei, when C Minor tremolandi interrupt the serene proceedings with an (autobiographical) concern for personal salvation, given Beethoven’s advancing deafness.

The remaining pieces exemplify Beethoven’s urge to create Italian opera, or at least to master aspects of the opera medium. Ah! perfido (1796; words of the recitativo by Metastasio) has managed to remain active in the soprano repertory, having found great recordings from Callas, Nilsson, and Brouwenstein. Janice Watson’s light but cleanly focused voice lacks the piercing quality of Nilsson or Stader, but it has crisp, even suave, flexibility. We can hear all sorts of intimations of the composer’s Fidelio. The balanced phrases of the aria harken back to Mozart, even to Gluck. The latter two arias are respectively a duet and trio for tenor John Mark Ainsley, bass Gwynne Howell, and Ms. Watson, and they allow Ainsley’s sweet voice some distinction, reminiscent as it is (in the 1802 duet) of Leopold Simoneau’s airy instrument. The second half of Ne’giorni. . .is the expected concert allegro vivace, with runs and turns of considerable bravura, as well as melody in the Mozart tradition. Tremate, empi, tremate (1814) might owe its agitated affect to Mozart’s Abduction From the Seraglio, but the string writing is in a strongly Romantic tradition we might find in Mendelssohn. Excellent sonic definition in all these performances, though they would easily benefit from the surround sound medium. 

–Gary Lemco

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