Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 19, 2008

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

Hartford Symphony, Bushnell
May 16 and 17, 2008
May 16, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

During the concert preview of Beethoven’s monumental Missa Solemnis, Music Director Edward Cumming was moved to remark that it is the single most difficult score he has ever and may ever conduct. That well may be true but with baton in hand, he conducted the assemblage – the full Hartford Symphony, four soloists, and in tandem with Music Director Richard Coffee the 150+ voices of the Hartford Chorale and CONCORA – with a disciplined passion for the demands of the music’s exalted moods. Mouthing the Latin words, exuding love of the score, Cumming belied any difficulty inherent in conducting this complicated, multi-faceted work.

The Mass in D Major, Opus 123, "Missa Solemnis" is a Mass set to music – Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei – and requires soloists to perform seemingly impossible vocal gymnastics. The distinctive voices of soprano Inna Dukach, mezzo soprano Janine Hawley, tenor Steven Tharp, and bass Kevin Deas were reverent, supplicatory, solemn, joyous, earning heightened appreciation for the wondrous dexterity of the human voice. At times, the chorus sopranos sustained notes that trailed away like a bell: reverberations disappeared into nothingness.

The combined sounds of singing voices and musical instruments, including organ and percussion, enveloped the audience with the brilliance of Beethoven’s genius – variances of harmony, tempo, and subtle surprises that appealed to the soul and the mind. During the Credo, Beethoven acclaimed his admiration of Handel, his favorite composer, by incorporating into the score slightly tweaked phrases from The Messiah. In the Sanctus, there was "Hosanna in the highest," and during the Agnus Dei, "For He will live forever and ever!" Composed during his last years, Beethoven (1770-1827) considered the challenging Missa Solemnis his greatest musical accomplishment. He imbued the notes with his evolving spiritual belief, his awe of and deep love for God.

With the entreaty, "Grant us peace," the final concert of the 2007-08 Masterworks Series came to a hushed conclusion. Within a few moments, the audience was on its feet applauding and cheering, blessing the musicians with multiple curtain calls.