Before digging into Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, proceedings opened with Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music – a rather onerous title for this beautifully performed short work. The strings were subtle and the wind lines sang over the top, in a well-crafted style I know I have almost come to take for granted from the RNS. But truly the orchestra shone under Thomas Zehetmair.
The Missa Solemnis is in the customary five parts for a mass (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei); it’s just that each part is highly developed and a great deal longer than usual. Not commonly performed, Beethoven’s great work requires a formidable effort from singers, soloists and players alike. Its very length as well as the ranges required of the singers and the complex fugues involved challenge all performers.
It started solemnly, even majestically as the programme notes stated, but the initial Kyrie did not really let on all that was to come in terms of an explosion of sound in the Gloria. The furious fugue which opened this was convincing from the choir and led into cascading strings. By the final “Gloria” at the end of this section the soloists and choir really were showing what they were worth. The last chord from all rang out in Hall One to a satisfied nod from Zehetmair.
After this, everything seemed to settle better and the performance in the Credo really took off. Beethoven separates the Credo into four sections, each with a corresponding key – as I learnt at this point in the performance when I discovered the excellent programme notes at this point, complete with text, commentary and background, which greatly added to my experience. This enjoyable movement provides a highly challenging fugue for the choir, which the Chorus of Royal Northern Sinfonia mastered well.
The Sanctus brought us exquisite playing from the RNS. A bare string sound opened this section, bringing with it a sense of prayer. Later on, Beethoven scores a solo violin to represent the flight of the Holy Spirit, which winds and twists its way persistently through the rest of the movement. Bradley Creswick’s playing here was shining and golden in tone – rising seemingly easily above the singers and other players. The final Agnus Dei was complete with timpani and brass calls, to echo military attacks on Vienna, but drew lyrically to its conclusion for this epic work. The full audience in Hall One was very responsive the efforts of all performers. As I write this, Thomas Zehetmair moves into his final week as Music Director of RNS, and with regret and anticipation we look forward to his season finale on Wednesday 11 June.
Reviewer: Katie Lodge