Missa Solemnis at the Kennedy Center
Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 04:19PM
Stephen Brookes

November 7, 2006
Beethoven.jpgThe Washington Post, 11/07/06:
  Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" isn't for the fainthearted. It's one of the most formidable choral works ever written, a surging powerhouse that pushes performers -- and listeners -- to their limits. The composer himself called it his greatest work, and it may well be; it's certainly his most powerful statement of faith, and one of the most dramatic pieces of religious music ever penned.

Norman Scribner
and the Choral Arts Society of Washington made a daring assault on the work at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Sunday, with generally excellent and often exhilarating results. The "Missa" makes demands on singers that are almost impossible to meet -- fortissimo passages at the extremes of the human voice, complex and rapid-fire counterpoint, fugues of relentless intensity -- and there were, inevitably, rough spots, particularly among the sopranos, who turned a bit shrill when pushed to the limit (as would many of us).

Stacey Rishoi
But quibbles aside, Scribner brought impressive sweep and gravitas to the work. The opening Kyrie was radiant, and the Gloria (with its breathtaking fugue) at turns explosive and transcendent. The delicate passages in the Credo had an almost unearthly beauty, while the Sanctus erupted in a soaring statement of joy. It was clear throughout that Scribner knew exactly what he wanted, and had his forces well under control; the result was a convincing and very moving account.

The four soloists -- soprano Kelley Nassief, mezzo Stacey Rishoi, tenor Paul Austin Kelly and bass Gary Relyea -- handled this challenging material with aplomb, although only Rishoi stood out as a truly exceptional singer. Not only is her voice a thing of beauty, but it radiates intelligence and dramatic power as well. Violinist Elisabeth Adkins contributed a beautiful solo in the Benedictus.

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