This radio performance is one of those that transmits, from another era to our own, some of what audiences found vital in an earlier day. The music was recorded in 1968 at the studios of the West German Radio in Cologne, but, as the compelling booklet notes convey, its performance style was rooted in the years after World War II. It was then, among the ruins (in Cologne in 1946, you could stand a mile away from the Cologne Cathedral and not see a single building in between), that conductor Günter Wand turned to sacred music. His reading of the Beethoven Mass in C major, Op. 86, is impressive -- warm and devotional, imbued with the Romantic spirit that E.T.A. Hoffmann (whose writings are also nicely used in the booklet) detected in the mass but never falling into the trap of making the music sound like Wellington's Victory. Sample the beginning of the Credo (track 3): this crescendo is bombastic if overplayed and pointless if kept too much under control, but Wand is masterly. This is a full-throated and full-blooded Mass in C major, giving free rein to the music's enthusiasm at the expense of details like the flat-seven chord that complicates the Gloria, but the singers of the Bavarian Radio Choir execute Wand's wishes superbly. The tenors, especially, blaze through the polyphonic passages and add the overflowing energy that is at the heart of the work's expressive world. An international set of soloists delivers rich textures that fit seamlessly with the work of the choir. Similar warmth can be found in Wand's performance of the Vesperae de Dominica, K. 321, of Mozart -- it's a slightly oversized performance (this time from the choir and orchestra of the West German Radio of Cologne), but a lush and exquisitely controlled one. The recording has the communicative edge of a live performance, but note that toward the end of the Kyrie there's a major sonic glitch, perhaps a music stand falling over or some kind of electronic disaster. It's not a flaw that seriously impedes the enjoyment of this passionate and utterly committed performance, highly recommended to Beethoven fans.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Mass for soloists, chorus & orchestra in C major, Op. 86|
|Vesperae de Dominica, for soloists, chorus & orchestra, K. 321|