Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bitte um innern und außern Frieden; Missa Solemnis in the Digital Concert Hall

It means a prayer for both inner and outer peace, and Beethoven wrote the line to help focus the energy he was looking in the Dona Nobis Pacem that brings the great Missa Solemnis to an end. The work is more than 85 minutes of music and it is built with the complexity of design that often reflects both inner and outer struggle.

In a concert simulcast live in the Digital Concert Hall, guest conductor Herbert Blomstedt brought a classical clarity to this great work as he conducted the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks.

On the very edge of turning 85, Blomstedt is probably best known in this country for his tenure as music director of the San Francisco Symphony from 1985 to 1995. Blomstedt conducted from memory and without a baton and brought a delicious youthful vitality to the event.

During his prerecorded address to the digital audience aired a half-hour before the event itself, Blomstedt emphasized how all levels of this work are "charged with meaning." He handed us neatly wrapped examples of musical motives which he sang, and also unraveled some specific connections to religious symbolism contained in the work.

Soft-edged balances in the Kyrie set the mood for this performance, and Blomstedt placed the opening choral invocations without diminuendi so that the quiet downbeats were subito. This made the soloists seem to emerge from the resonances in the hall and was quite magical even over the internet. Though there were glorious moments in the celebratory Gloria it was the Apollonian quality that Blomstedt created in the Credo that was most memorable.

Guy Braunstein played the extensive solo violin writing in the Benedictus with liquid phrases shaped in lyricism, and made even more poignant by his recent announcement to step down as concertmaster of the Berliner Philharmoniker at the end of the 2012-2013 season.

The soloists were effective both in individual phrases and in blended ensembles. Soprano Ruth Ziesak was captivating with colors that could pierce any texture and rhythmic buoyancy that drew us close. Tenor Richard Croft showed how a thinking tenor can phrase and blend and still sound effortlessly brilliant. Bass Georg Zeppenfeld and contralto Gerhild Romberger both contributed magical moments to this quartet of soloists.

At the end of the Benedictus, Blomstedt allowed the final fermata to sustain longer than any others in the work. He froze, then with a sudden gesture he seemed to grab the sound with both hands and pulled it inward as the chord was released into silence. Throughout this performance the music felt cherished.

1 comment:

  1. It would have to be music or prayer--both of which are works of body/soul--to bring reconciling peace to our inner and outer selves. Both are an intuition and intimation of more singleness (and real complexity) than we commonly allow into our banal lives. Cool post.

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