Erwin Ortner

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

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You call this an interpretation? Randomly exposed instruments? Accidentally changed tempos? An orchestra you could fit in the pit at a high school production of Fame? No, 50 years ago Nikolaus Harnoncourt's 1992 recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe would barely have been called a performance. Klemperer would have laughed at him. Toscanini would have hit him. And someday children will wonder what was wrong with audiences in the latter years of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first century that Harnoncourt's mewling, puking Missa Solemnis was not only performed and recorded, but performed at the Salzburg Festival and recorded by one of the great German record companies. Not that everything about the performance is laughable. The Chamber Orchestra of Europe is a fine young orchestra that plays with polish and enthusiasm. The Arnold Schoenberg Choir is a superb chorus with strength and agility. But despite its talents and abilities, its performance is tremendously sloppy with terrifically incoherent tempos because Harnoncourt's conducting is deep on the wrong side of competent, and in a work on the scale and size of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, that's the wrong side to be on. Teldec's sound is clear and clean, but the ambience is empty.

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