The Organ

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

Hertfordshire Chorus with David Temple
15th January 2005

When one experiences a reading of such power and magnificence one is forced to wonder why Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is so rarely performed. Certainly when compared with either of the Bach Passions or Handel's Messiah appearances are very thin on the ground. I can't recall a single example in all the years I have been to Three Choirs and even in central London I can only remember a handful across my concert going years. All the more welcome then a reading of real authority from David Temple and the Hertfordshire Chorus. St Albans Abbey is a rather flabby acoustic for any work but David Temple produced enough bite and edge to keep rhythms alive and sparkling throughout. The work was given in a single urgent span, with only the briefest of breaks between sections, keeping us all awake and attentive. The opening Kyrie was rich and powerful in attack and this sense of energy never let up throughout the evening. Fluidity of line and a muscular flexibility inhabited the Gloria, which came to a furious conclusion worthy of Berlioz.

Though Beethoven accepted the normal tenets of Christianity his humanism shines through, none less than in the balance of the central sections of the Credo. He dwells lovingly on the notion that Christ is human with gentle embellishment of homo factus us, while Crucifixus slips by to allow us to concentrate of the power of the resurrection.

One of the strengths of David Temple's reading of the score was its sense of homogeneity. The Sanctus and Agnus Dei can seem out of balance with the rest of the work but were here perfectly weighted against the opening sections.

Claims that Hertfordshire Chorus are the finest in the country might be contested by other groups but on the strength of this performance there can be few to touch them. Internal balance is strong without having to overdo any of the voices, the tops of the Sopranos are a delight and the Tenors can throw out musically virile lines with ease. It is not easy to sing at full voice even for a work as relatively short as this, so the quality of their training and pacing obviously shows through.

They were also blessed with fine soloists. Lynda Russell floated her soprano lines effortlessly above the orchestra; Pippa Longworth (a new name as far as I was concerned) has a pleasing weight to her mezzo; Alan Oke's tenor rang with pleasing virility and the whole was supported by Timothy Mirfin's strong Bass - standing in at short notice for Ashley Holland.

The Aurelian Symphony Orchestra has a number of fine soloists - particularly Chris Windass' violin solo in the Sanctus - though the string section was somewhat underpowered given the difficult acoustic in the cathedral. I have written over the last few years of David Temple's work with Crouch End Festival Chorus, and his equally pleasing work with the Hertfordshire Chorus on this occasion shows that the outcome must be attributable to him not just the singers! Long may it continue.


Crouch End Festival Chorus sing Vaughan Williams and John Adams at the Barbican Hall on 23 January. Hertfordshire Chorus sing works by Monteverdi, Puccini, Pergolesi, Verdi, Vivaldi, Lassus and Lotti at St Cyprian's Church, Gloucester Place London NW1 6AX on 5 March.

The two come together for Berlioz Te Deum and Holst Hymn of Jesus at the RFH on 4 May