Frieder Bernius / Kammerchor Stuttgart / Hofkapelle Stuttgart

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis Op. 123

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Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in D major, Op. 123, has never been as popular as his Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, or even other late works such as the final group of string quartets. It's both difficult to perform and troublesome to interpret, with giant intricate fugues but also simple passages that seem opaque. Conductor Frieder Bernius, his Kammerchor Stuttgart, and historical-instrument Hofkapelle Stuttgart solve a lot of the problems in this exceptional reading. The big contrapuntal passages reveal much here, thanks to Bernius' early 19th century period winds. You get a good deal of detail about the balances in an extensive note from the conductor. The conclusion of the work, which just seems to leave you hanging, comes off very strongly as a questioning attitude, as Bernius puts just the right weight on the recurring ominous war motif in the Agnus Dei. The modal "Et resurrexit" in the Credo and the startling recurring declamations of "Credo, credo" (I believe, I believe) are each delineated clearly. On top of all this is the characteristic warm sound of the Kammerchor Stuttgart; Bernius has been recording landmarks of choral repertory with this choir over some years, and its sound seems more burnished with each outing. The soloists also achieve a precise but relaxed coordination that is essential in this work. The album was recorded at a small monastery chapel in the hills southwest of Stuttgart; you may feel at first that it puts the choir too far in the background, but persist and you will get what Bernius is doing. An exceptional Missa Solemnis.

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