mon 24/02/2020

BBC Proms: Missa Solemnis, London Symphony Orchestra, Davis | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Missa Solemnis, London Symphony Orchestra, Davis

BBC Proms: Missa Solemnis, London Symphony Orchestra, Davis

A sober Beethoven offers a topical mass for an age of war

Sir Colin Davis: 'failing to reach the top of Mount Everest'

While revered and respected, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis has never inspired audiences with the same affection as Bach’s B minor Mass, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, or even Mozart’s Coronation or C minor settings. Perhaps it’s the austerity, the monumentality of the work Beethoven knew to be his greatest that rejects the easy assimilation into secular concert life, perhaps it’s more simply the lack of big tunes to wash down all that liturgy. Furtwängler famously drew back from the work’s sacred challenges as he grew older, but Sir Colin Davis is evidently determined to keep tackling a work whose performance he has likened to “failing to reach the top of Mount Everest”.


Hi! I enjoyed reading your balanced review. I was one of the chorus members and had the privilege of singing under Sir Colin Davis in this concert. It is a testament to him that he was able to conduct given that he had recently experienced personal tragedy. Rehearsals were intense and at the end Sir Colin would be slumped in his seat having expended all that energy. Concessions had to be given to him as there were a few choir entry cues which he omitted at performance. Nothing like a live broadcast to keep the adrenalin going. There is one technical error which I noticed and it is to do with the link of the London Symphony Chorus to a previous BBC Symphony Chorus review. The LSC and the BBCSC are different choirs although, to be fair, easily confused.

Apologies Noel, the errant link has been removed and replaced with a link to a review of the LSC's glorious performance of The Kingdom with Mark Elder earlier this year.

I have had the privilege of singing in the chorus of three performances of the Missa Solemnis, many years ago now, but I have never forgotten them. Being in a choir means you sing all the old war horses, Verdi Requiem, Mozart, Bach, Elgar etc and glorious though many of these works are, the Missa Solemnis, for me is the greatest choral work ever written. And, yes I know all about the Matthew Passion so nobody write and tell me! I am always incredibly moved and uplifted by this work and the solo violin in the Benedictus always reduces me to tears. Surely one of the most sublime pieces of music ever written. I have loved Sir Colin Davis all my musical life and sad to see him looking bowed down with sorrow and yet every now and then he would look up, a smile cross his face and it lifted the heart. A wonderful Prom.

A very accurate review of the piece and the performance. I was doing the live TV directing of the concert, which means getting to know the music pretty well. And I can attest that the Missa Solemnis takes a while to get under the skin and it's easy to see why it hasn't got the popular appeal of Bach, Haydn, or indeed Verdi masses. It is serious and, at times, troubled. But in the performance itself I thought Sir Colin gave it a rugged grandeur and inetgrity which was quite compelling. And yes, there was a lot of adrenalin involved.

I'm not sure what Simon Broughton means by 'live TV directing' but I can tell him that I watched and listened on very high-end equipment - and the sound was among the worst of the season. The male soloists were practically inaudible, particularly the bass, the female soloists only stood out more as their parts lay higher. The great violin solo was also more or less inaudible. Only the choir really came over. The TV transmissions do vary according to who seems to be in charge on a particular night so while this concert was apparently wonderful in the RAH it was a gross disappointment to viewers (I consulted with a friend who watched/listened on a much lesser system than mine who also found it a very poor transmission).

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