Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016
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Beethoven Missa solemnis, Op 123 Genia Kühmeier sop Elisabeth Kulman mez Mark Padmore ten Hanno Müller-Brachmann bass‑bar Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus and Orchestra / Bernard Haitink BR-Klassik F 900130 (79’ • DDD) Recorded live at the Herkulessaal, Munich, September 25-26, 2014
This is Bernard Haitink’s first recording of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, a remarkable fact in itself which becomes doubly so when one realises that Haitink was 85 when he directed the performances from which the recording derives. They took place in Munich last autumn. Haitink could not have a chosen a better place to stage them. The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra is currently as fine a Beethoven ensemble as any in Germany and Peter Dijkstra’s Bavarian Radio Choir marries weight with refinement in exactly the right measure.
As befits a musician of his age and experience, Haitink sees the work whole. He holds the Mass’s dramatic and meditative elements in a near ideal accord and projects them unerringly in a single 80-minute span. It is interesting, however, that at no point is one remotely aware that the performance is being conducted. It simply is. Take the opening of the Credo. Given a perfectly judged Allegro ma non troppo and a rocksteady pulse, the music appears to circle on itself with all the inevitability of a planet circling its sun. This is a wonderful account of the movement, not least in the deep sense of indwelling which the orchestra and Haitink’s superb quartet of soloists led by Mark Padmore bring to the ‘Crucifixus’. After that, there is no looking back. The meditative passages of the Benedictus and Agnus Dei are similarly fine, with the Agnus Dei itself bringing the great work powerfully yet calmly to its appointed end.
The recording is of studio quality. Had this been a studio recording I suspect the producer might have been tempted to revisit the Kyrie and Gloria, if only to pick up on the special mood which the performance generates from the Credo onwards.
But that is a small quibble. There are plenty of recordings of the Missa solemnis that are essentially theatrical happenings regulated from without. This is a spiritual event which grows from within. Free of any taint of ego, it takes with unerring aim the course the composer himself prescribed when he wrote the words ‘from the heart to the heart’. Richard Osborne
Bliss Morning Heroesa. Hymn to Apollo a Samuel West orator BBC Symphony aChorus and Orchestra / Sir Andrew Davis Chandos F Í CHSA5159 (65’ • DDD/DSD • T)
It is over 40 years since the last recording of Bliss’s choral symphony Morning
Heroes, written in 1930 as a memorial to his gifted brother, Kennard Bliss, killed at the Battle of the Somme. That thoroughly committed performance, made in 1974 by Charles Groves and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, is still very much worth having in its remastered version. However, this new recording is a revelation for its clarity (notably of the composer’s vivid orchestral palette and imaginative choral writing), coherence and sheer emotional intensity.
One of the most striking features of the work is the part of the narrator in the opening and penultimate movements. In 1974, the deep, sonorous tones of John Westbrook fulfilled this role majestically, but Samuel West is undoubtedly his equal for the hypnotic modulation and control of his recitation, especially in the extraordinarily haunting (not to say terrifying) concept of Wilfred Owen’s ‘Spring Offensive’ with timpani. Davis’s handling of the multi-movement structure of Bliss’s poetic anthology, which ranges from the deeply personal to the collective, is sensitively paced and shaped. The careful grading of ‘Hector’s Farewell’ is beautifully restrained to allow the narrator to shine through, while the different shades of melancholy mixed with those vivid sentiments of life and imminent death (which only war can engender) are powerfully conveyed, especially in the wonderful pastoral elegy for female voices, the ghostly setting of Whitman’s ‘By the bivouac’s fitful flame’ and the Bachian, passion-like final chorus, ‘Last night rain fell over the scarred plateau’. The orchestral tone-poem Hymn to Apollo, reworked in 1965 from the original version of 1926 and characterised by its clean contours and processional motion, serves as a fitting contrast and may well have been part of the cathartic process, as Morning Heroes most certainly was, to exorcise his nightmares and the sorrow of his brother’s death. Jeremy Dibble Morning Heroes – comparative version: RLPO, Groves (3/75R, 10/91R) (EMI) 505909-2
Howells Collegium Regale. Office of Holy Communion. Behold, O God our defender. I love all beauteous things. Psalms – No 121; No 122. Rhapsody, Op 17 No 1 The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge / Stephen Layton with Eleanor Kornas, Owain Park org Hyperion F CDA68105 (61’ • DDD • T)
It was indeed fateful that Howells should have found himself in Cambridge during the
Second World War in order to stand in for the recently appointed St John’s College organist Robin Orr, who was on active service in RAF intelligence. Having contributed little of any significance to Anglican liturgical music for two decades, Howells found the renewed experience of choral services (one he had formerly known at the cathedrals of Gloucester and Salisbury) highly amenable and invigorating. Thanks additionally to the stimulus of Dean Milner White, one of the Anglican church’s great liturgical innovators, he was persuaded to write his only full setting of the Morning and Evening Canticles for King’s College, Cambridge (‘Collegium Regale’) in 1944 and, with this, began the outpouring of anthems and service music that effectively established his reputation as a composer of church music and as a worthy successor to his teacher, Stanford.
This is a stunning recording in so many
14 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2016