Classical review: BBC SSO: Missa Solemnis, City Halls, Glasgow

BBC SSO players. Picture: Contributed
BBC SSO players. Picture: Contributed
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IT’S not often you get to hear Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis live; a work that pushed expressive boundaries to the limit, playing dangerously with structure and content at every turn.

BBC SSO: Missa Solemnis | Rating: **** | City Halls, Glasgow

So when a performance does come around – as on Thursday courtesy of the BBC SSO and Edinburgh Festival Chorus under Donald Runnicles – it should be quite an occasion.

So why wasn’t the hall more full? It could only be that the RSNO was performing a Beethoven programme on the same night a mile away. This kind of clash helps no-one, least of all the orchestras involved. Get talking!

For those of us who chose the choral blockbuster, it was money mainly well spent. For a start, Christopher Bell’s Edinburgh Festival Chorus was on blistering form. From the blazing intensity of the Gloria – surely a forerunner to Bruckner in its solid wall of sound – to the home straits of the final sublime and insistent “Dona nobis pacems”, the ­choral singing was vivid, homogenous, often ecstatic.

However, the performance’s full potential took time to materialise. The opening Kyrie seemed like a warm up to the Gloria, less decisively paced. But beyond it, Runnicles firm hand found expansiveness and, in softer passages, not least leader Laura Samuel’s enchanting violin solo, infinite warmth and intimacy.

The vocal quartet – Kim-­Lillian Strebel, Stephanie Lauricella, John Daszak and Nathan Berg – worked instinctively as a team, though occasional individual weaknesses, such as the soprano’s frantic top notes, rocked an otherwise solid boat. It was a thrill to be on board.