Beethoven famously wished it to go “from the heart to the heart” but in truth it can be difficult to love the mighty edifice that is the Missa Solemnis.
There’s plenty to admire in its audacity of scale and breadth of ideas but even the greatest performances leave one with the nagging suspicion that the whole does not quite add up to the sum of its parts.
If the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and John Storgards didn’t ultimately dispel this impression, they did make a compelling case that Beethoven’s greatest thoughts aren’t to be found in the bombast but in the quiet, reflective moments. Even with a bulked-up SCO and expanded chorus this was still a smaller scale, more intimate performance than most. Not that it was devoid of grandeur, as Storgards demonstrated from the outset with a Kyrie that was expansively phrased and measured. However, what lingered in the memory were the quiet moments: the delicate woodwind tracery weaving around the solo quartet in the Et Incarnatus Est and the transparent, glassy textures of the vibrato-free strings in the opening of the Sanctus.
It didn’t always work: there were times one missed the easy power of a larger ensemble and places where an otherwise excellent SCO Chorus struggled under the sheer weight, particularly towards the end of the unremitting Credo. But with Storgards bringing an overarching coherence to the work, an elegant quartet of soloists – Rachel Willis-Sorensen, Karen Cargill, Jeremy Ovenden and Neal Davies – and a silver-toned solo from leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore, the trade-off of intimacy for might didn’t leave one feeling short-changed.