|Monteverdi Choir/ORR/Gardiner at Barbican|
The Guardian, by Martin Kettle, 18 October 2012
Monteverdi Choir/ORR/Gardiner - review
For the second time this year, the Barbican has heard a wondrous performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis conducted by a giant of the 20th-century performance-practice revolution. But that is where the similarity ends. Six months ago, Nikolaus Harnoncourt's version with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Netherlands Radio Choir was awesomely spacious and lovingly austere, leading my colleague Tim Ashley to conclude that though there can be no such thing as a definitive Missa Solemnis, this was among the greatest you are ever likely to hear.
There were long periods in John Eliot Gardiner's account with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, and with the Monteverdi Choir in magnificent voice, that you felt exactly the same thing. Yet the two performances could hardly have been more different. Not only did Gardiner's period-instrument orchestra produce a more daringly coloured account – nowhere more so than in the contemplative fibrousness of the violas and cellos at the start of the Sanctus – but Gardiner's whole approach had an exuberant physicality that was wholly foreign to Harnoncourt's more rapturous conception. Spirited rather than spiritual, perhaps, but proof that there are many roads to Beethoven.
There was hardly a passage that did not show the result of Gardiner's hallmark relentless intelligence and audacity. The Kyrie tingled with anxiety. The Gloria was a wheel of fire. The vividness of the Credo sparkled with colour and confidence. The Sanctus had a fragility, emphasised by the lack of vibrato in Peter Hanson's delicate violin solo, that felt entirely authentic. The Agnus Dei had a willed ecstasy echoing the finale of the Pastoral Symphony, and Gardiner pulled no punches as the sounds of war forced themselves into the final prayer for peace. The commitment to the cause from orchestra and choir was plain to hear, while Lucy Crowe and James Gilchrist stood out in a strong quartet of soloists.