CMJ Friday Pics
CMJ Saturday Pics

White Light Festival: Missa Solemnis

LSO 2011_001In addition to all the other musical events happening around town, the 2nd annual White Light Festival at Lincoln Center opened last night with an epic peformance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, with the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, all conducted by Sir Colin Davis.

The house was completely full, many no doubt realizing that this was in all likelihood Sir Colin's final New York performance. Davis, who turned 84 last month, first conducted the LSO in 1959, eventually becoming their principal conductor in 1995. Over the past 50 years, he has made many recordings with the LSO, including a Philips recording of the Missa Solemnis in 1977 which literally knocked me out of my seat the first time I heard it. (It is still the only recording I own.) 

Julian Hancock's liner notes from that Philips recording convey the magnitude of Beethoven's achievement:

"The work carried Beethoven into spiritual dimensions never before encapsulated in music. The canvas is broader and richer than any mass yet written, even to the extent of expecting the choir to demonstrate a flexibility and sheer stamina normally associated only with instrumental composition."

(See my post on the NY Phil's June 2010 performance for more background on the Missa Solemnis.)

LSO 2011_004Sir Colin did appear somewhat frail last night, using a stool for most of the performance. (When I last saw him here in 2007 to conduct Haydn's The Creation, he stood throughout.) Perhaps not coincidentally, his tempi was a good bit slower than on that recording from 34 years ago: at times, it felt grandiose, at others plodding.

But, there were still plenty of astonishing moments, largely driven by the 150-strong London Symphony Chorus, which sang with the roar and brilliance one would expect of a choir made up of British singers. The soloists - soprano Helena Juntunen, mezzo Sarah Connolly, tenor Paul Groves and bass Matthew Rose - were all solid. And, of course, the LSO played brilliantly - particularly concertmaster Gordan Nikolitch, who stood to play the long, lyrical violin solo in the Benedictus and delivered it with heartfelt tenderness. 

The London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus are back at Avery Fisher tomorrow afternoon for Britten's War Reqiuem - another White Light Festival event - with a whole new set of soloists, conduted by Gianandrea Noseda. Looks like there are tickets still available; check with the box office. 

If this was, in fact, Davis' final appearance on these shores, it was a most noble and worthy exit. Godspeed, Sir Colin. You'll be missed.

LSO 2011_005More pics on the photo page.