Beethoven: Missa Solemnis Review

Lichfield Cathedral Chorus; Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra
Lichfield Cathedral
Saturday 3rd December 2011

Beethoven’s huge Missa Solemnis attempts the impossible – and so does
any amateur choir that tackles it. It’s nothing less than one of the
greatest creative minds in human history talking directly and
intimately to his God. Even the most perfect performance is unlikely
to do it justice.

So this attempt by the Lichfield Cathedral Chorus, conducted by Ben
Lamb and supported by the expanded Darwin Ensemble Chamber Orchestra,
deserved respect. The Chorus has some clear weaknesses, principally an
underpowered tenor and bass section. But it also has some real
strengths; most notably a general spirit of real musicianship and
commitment.

Unsurprisingly, Beethoven’s insanely difficult choral writing claimed
a few casualties – at the end of the Gloria, it sounded like the
chorus was hanging on for dear life. Yet there were moments of real
hushed beauty, and in the opening Kyrie, warm lyrical waves of
expressive sound.

With a well-matched team of soloists – Soprano Rowan Baker, Mezzo
Ailsa Cochrane, an impassioned Hugh Hetherington (tenor) and a
sonorous Fran Ambrose (bass) – the spirit of this extraordinary work
shone through regardless. And when the flutes swirled around Alex
Laing’s heartbreakingly pure violin solo in the Sanctus, it came very
close to transcendence.

Richard Bratby

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