Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Loud "Missa Solemnis"

The Atlanta Symphony with conductor Donald Runnicles is presenting Beethoven’s monumental “Missa Solemnis” ( this weekend. The soloists include: Christine Brewer, Soprano; Karen Cargill, Mezzo-soprano; Thomas Cooley, Tenor; and Eric Owens, Bass-baritone. Norman Mackenzie prepared the ASO Chorus for the performance. The soloists were outstanding. They were uniformly strong, especially when singing with the full orchestra and chorus. I particularly liked Cooley, who has a rich and strong voice. This is a demanding work not only on the soloists, but on the orchestra as well. It was played without intermission and nonstop, save for a few between-sections tuning. The ASO played quite well, although the French horns still seem to me to have intonation and ensemble problems. David Coucheron, the new ASO, concertmaster was particularly good in the beautiful violin solo in the Sanctus portion of the work. He manages to get every ounce of volume from his instrument. His intonation was spot on and he has a very impressive vibrato.

ASO audiences love choral works, possibly a legacy of the years that Robert Shaw was the music director of the symphony. The ASO chorus ( has 200 singers who sing often as if with one voice. Their diction is precise and they never fail to elicit a warm response from the audience. But for me, they are simply too loud, possibly due to the smallish Symphony Hall. I find that they drown out the orchestra and soloists. Because they have such tremendous volume, they seem to sing without subtlety. They lack nuance. For me, the “Missa Solemnis” would have been better served with about 60 fewer voices.

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