Is there life after Bach? Masaaki Suzuki is finding out after spending much of his career recording Bach’s cantatas. He has already spread his wings, delivering an acclaimed account of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor. He now turns his attention to that most challenging works, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.
Historically informed in style and scale, Suzuki’s version is close to John Eliot Gardiner’s 2012 account in which James Gilchrist is also the tenor soloist. Suzuki brings many admirable aspects to the enterprise: finely honed orchestral playing and a well matched quartet of vocal soloists. There are some undeniably beautiful things – in particular the Benedictus with Ryo Terakado’s burnished violin solo and the exquisite singing of the soloists.
For all Suzuki’s careful attention to detail, this performance lacks the sustained emotional energy that Gardiner and his forces bring to the music. At the start of the Gloria Suzuki’s choir of just 31 voices seems swamped by the orchestra with its double winds and timpani, yet the final fugue of the movement gains in strength and vigour. By contrast, the “Et ascendit” of the Credo lacks Gardiner’s mercurial brilliance. The Credo also has some extraordinarily demanding vocal writing where greater numbers could have increased dramatic impact. Gardiner’s chorus of 45 ably demonstrates the difference. While much of this performance does go from the heart and to the heart, it is probably not the first choice in a crowded field.