Langrée Brings Drama, Strength & Beauty to Beethoven’s Mass in C

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Gluck, Beethoven: Soloists, Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Chorus / Louis Langrée (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 2.2.2012 (SRT)

Gluck: Overture, Iphigénie en Aulide
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4
Mass in C

Elena Xanthoudakis (soprano)
Jurgita Adamontyé (mezzo)
Andrew Staples (tenor
Alastair Miles (bass)

This was an evening of weight from the SCO in almost every sense. It started right from the classically austere opening chords of Gluck’s Iphigenie overture and went on into an allegro that was vigorous but always serious, never celebratory; but then that’s hardly surprising considering the subject matter of the opera. Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, on the other hand, needs a lighter touch than this. Langrée painted this music in thick brush strokes and laid the brass on heavily, to a degree that sounded rather indiscreet at times; indeed, much of the delicate string writing in the finale was obscured in the climaxes. Things lightened a little in the scherzo and the winds (especially) took off uproariously in the finale, but for me this was a rather unbalanced, bottom-heavy reading of this symphony.

Weighty matters indeed were at the heart of the Mass in C, but here they were entirely appropriately placed. When viewed next to the towering Missa Solemnis it’s easy to overlook this work, but it contains some outstanding music, and its structure is in many ways similar to the later work with its slow opening, fugal episodes in the Gloria and Credo, meditative Sanctus and sometimes martial Agnus Dei. The solemn, thoughtful opening of this work, which returns in the final bars, has a magisterial sense of beginning a journey, and the strength of the orchestra is an asset rather than a problem here. The chorus were on great form too, singing with quiet expectation in the opening and outstanding clarity in the two great fugues. The excellent quartet of soloists leavened the texture too, the rich, authoritative mezzo of Jurgita Adamontyé contrasting beautifully with the bright, clear and wonderfully sweet soprano of Elena Xanthoudakis. Andrew Staples’ tenor was predominantly lyrical while retaining a slight heroic tinge, and Alastair Miles’ bass underpinned them all with his characteristically sonorous depth. The blend of all four was excellent in the Benedictus, but the climax of the evening came at the Resurrexit, where all the power of the combined forces came together to produce drama, strength and beauty in all the right proportions.

Simon Thompson