In spite of initial skepticism by some, the National Symphony Orchestra’s performance of the divisive Missa Solemnis at the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC. in early November was anything but disappointing. Scott Tucker, in his debut as choir director, effortlessly lead the ensemble in a flawless rendition of this revered piece, arguably the shining religious accomplishment of Beethoven’s career. Through challenging acoustics, and into the ears of a delighted crowd, the performance left many patrons deeply moved, and may have changed a few people’s opinion of the sometimes criticized piece.
Anne Midgette’s recent review in the Washington Post was extremely complimentary and had this to say:
“Here’s a piece that justifies the existence of an orchestra – and soloists and a chorus all raising their voices together in what was meant as an ultimate statement of a much-questioned faith, and not only the composers own.”
The internal struggle within the piece’s composer is enigmatic, but poignant, ranging from the high energy second movement- “The Gloria”, showcasing some solid orchestra wide cohesiveness under Tucker’s direction, to the lamentable lows and bellows of the more emotional Credo.
Under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach, the orchestra – well placed to provide a heavenly effect to the acoustic blend – combined with intense vocal performances by Kwangchul Youn and Richard Cross among others, added benevolence, reverence, and an almost angelic quality that felt right on theme for Beethoven’s labor of religiously influenced love. Beyond that, as should be the case with any operatic mass, the meat and potatoes that drove the performance was the choir ensemble as a whole. For his first outing, Scott Tucker had something to prove. He and his ensemble brought their ‘a’ game to the table, leaving nary a dry eye. All in all, it was one the most moving events of 2012, and hopefully 2013 will bring much more from this dynamic duo of musical genius.
Missa Solemnis is widely regarded as a challenging piece for any ensemble. The musical requirements stretch both the individual musicians, as well as the conductors. Combining orchestra, chorus and soloists successfully in a performance of Missa Solemnis is no easy feat, but Tucker and Eschenbach accomplished the task flawlessly.