Georg Solti / Iris Vermillion

Beethoven: Missa solemnis, Op.123

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You know the old debate over the Missa Solemnis, the whole "Is it sacred music for the concert hall or secular music for the church" question? Don't worry about it. The issue doesn't come up in this 1994 recording of the work with Georg Solti conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. For Solti, the answer is an obvious one: the Missa Solemnis may have a sacred text, but it is in every way a dramatic work for the opera house. But what a dramatic work! Remember, this is Solti, the screaming skull, the conductor who transformed Wagner's Ring into the Greatest Story Ever Told, but whose power and conviction made it work at a supremely high level. What else could he do with the Missa Solemnis except play it to the last row in the bleachers? That isn't to say that Solti's Missa Solemnis isn't unbelievably dramatic. The playing and singing are strong and virtuosic, plus they sustain an unbearable level of intensity through the entire length of the work. The problem is that the whole performance is unbelievable and unbearable, a deadly combination in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, one of the highest and holiest works of musical art in the history of humanity. London's sound is clear, but otherwise unimpressive.

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