Thursday night it looked like a full house for MTT conducting Beethoven’s Missa solemnis with the SF Symphony. More than one usher reminded us that it was an intermissionless program. The performance was really about the chorus, which was larger than usual. They sang with firmness & confidence. Every note had a clear beginning & end. The vocal soloists each had very different voices, & it often felt like they were singing very disparate parts. Soprano Christine Brewer's bright yet substantial tone is unmistakable, & she sounded surprisingly agile in Beethoven's sometimes unfriendly vocal lines. Mezzo Katarina Karnéus had a dark, grounded & penetrating sound. Tenor Gregory Kunde sometimes started off wobbly before settling into a more focused sound. Bass Ain Anger has a smooth, slightly velvety sound. My concert companion wondered whether Mr. Anger's was being amplified. His voice did sometimes sound a bit disembodied.
From my seat in the 1st tier the orchestra sounded attenuated & pale, especially the strings, which were slightly reduced. There were only 7 cellos & 6 basses. Concert master Alexander Barantschik played deep into his strings for his expansive solos in the Benedictus, sounding sustained & solid. MTT's pacing was relaxed, even & a bit sedate. He did not push for big climaxes. There was a nice pianissimo at the end of the "Et incarnatus est." The theatrical trumpet call in the Agnus Dei sounded far-off & subdued. The audience was quiet during the long, restful pauses MTT took between sections. The piece's unusual ending, which simply pulls back & then up, felt both instantaneous & conclusive. The audience gave the performance a standing ovation, with the biggest applause going to the chorus.
§ MTT conducts Beethoven’s Missa solemnis
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor
Christine Brewer, soprano
Katarina Karnéus, mezzo-soprano
Gregory Kunde, tenor
Ain Anger, bass
San Francisco Symphony Chorus
Ragnar Bohlin, director
Beethoven: Missa solemnis
Thu, Jun 23, 2011 8:00pm
Davies Symphony Hall