Music review: SCO: Missa Solemnis

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
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For even the finest choirs, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is like scaling the north face of the Eiger. Beethoven spent years mapping out his extensive, heavy-duty setting of the mass, ultimately producing a choral challenge that is mercilessly uncompromising, set against orchestral writing as complex, unorthodox and unpredictable as the Ninth Symphony.

By the end of this fine-tuned performance by the SCO, its excellent chorus and fortifying team of soloists under Finnish conductor John Storgårds, the mountain had been well and truly conquered. What can so often seem like an endurance, was here a euphoric success from start to finish.

SCO: Missa Solemnis *****

City Halls, Glasgow

The opening Kyrie and Gloria – a half-hour tour-de-force – encapsulated all that was to distinguish the rest of the performance. Storgårds’ magnetic presence – stately and magisterial, ever-conscious of the colossal, heroic picture – elicited an initial calmness that was compelling in its inner intensity, out of which the Gloria erupted with spine-tingling ecstasy. Most impressive, though, was the extraordinary detail he demanded and received throughout from Gregory Batsleer’s expertly-trained chorus: needle-sharp diction capable of cutting through the orchestral largesse; an expressive range intensified by the superb homogeneity of the voices, particularly the sopranos.

But this is a work to be enjoyed for the egalitarian power of all its integrated forces. The SCO sounded assertive, crisp and lustrous; the vocal quartet – Rachel Willis-Sørensen, Karen Cargill, Jeremy Ovenden and Neal Davies – evenly matched. Together, they took us to a sublime place.