Philippe Herreweghe's 2011 recording of Ludwig van Beethoven's Missa Solemnis in D major receives high marks, not only for the elegant period treatment, but also for the profound conviction of the performance. The Collegium Vocale Ghent and the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées deliver the music with a somewhat smaller sound than one usually hears in modern performances; the Classical proportions of the ensembles allow details to stand out with utter clarity and the choral parts to move with greater fluidity and transparency than permitted with much larger choruses.
Karajan surmounted this pinnacle of the choral-symphonic repertoire - which Beethoven himself called "the greatest work I have composed" - no fewer than four times in the recording studio, but only once live and on film: in this unique document from the 1979 Salzburg Easter Festival. The atmosphere of Salzburg's Festspielhaus and festival audience adds a special frisson to this conductor's classic interpretation of the Missa solemnis.
With no slight intended to the other great recordings of the Missa Solemnis in the world, there's this one and then there are all the rest. Truly. Even with the 1940 Toscanini and the 1974 Böhm, this 1965 recording of Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus embodies everything that's great about the Missa Solemnis. And everything that's great about late Beethoven is in the Missa Solemnis: the energy, the nobility, the strength, the vision, and – above all – the overwhelming sense that the numinous is imminent. Beethoven thought it was his best work and who could not agree? That's what's in Klemperer's performance.
Longtime Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Eugene Ormandy developed what came to be known as the "Philadelphia Sound." (He groused that it should be called the "Ormandy Sound," even though its fundamentals had already been established during Leopold Stokowski's long tenure with the Philadelphia Orchestra.) Largely as an effort to overcome the dry acoustics of the orchestra's home, the Academy of Music, Ormandy emphasized lush string sonorities and, often, legato phrasing and rounded tone. He was lauded even by his own musicians for his ability to conduct everything from memory, even complex contemporary scores. Still, aside from the voluptuous tone, Ormandy's interpretations rarely bore an individual stamp. They were, however, highly polished, intelligently balanced, and well paced, always serving the scores honorably, and often with a dash of controlled excitement.
The Collegium Vocale Gent and Orchestre des Champs-Elysées interpret Beethoven's Missa Solemnis for PHI. This major work of the sacred repertoire, high on the list alongside Bach's Mass in B minor and the Mozart Requiem, is Beethoven's longest work and assuredly the one that demanded the most work. The composer even considered the Mass his finest work.