While some firebrands mellow with age, the revolutionary Beethoven, the ultimate anti-Establishmentarian spirit, fought with ever-increasing fervour and focus as he struggled through life.

The composer's final decade of music was created in spite of deafness, one contemporary likening the experience of the Choral Symphony to a blind man standing before Strasbourg Cathedral, hearing its bells, but not able to see the entrance.

Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is another visionary work and, on Saturday, we were privileged to experience it live, thanks to Uwe Grodd and Auckland Choral, supported by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra and a strong-voiced quartet of soloists.

Chorally, it was not without blemish, but this composer is notoriously unsparing in his demands. Saturday night's soprano line did suffer from perilous pitching and flagging energy during unrelenting upper register passages.


Yet the opening Kyrie eleison had conductor Grodd drawing just the right weight and gravitas for the choir's pleas, followed by the eloquent individual pleadings of Simon O'Neill, Hyeseoung Kwon and Jacqueline Dark, joined by Martin Snell in a shapely Christe eleison.

If the scale of Missa Solemnis were not daunting enough, with a Gloria of just under 20 minutes, its bold shifts of style and texture make for an unsettling but dramatic experience, effectively conveyed on this occasion.

A blaze of D major jubilation eventually transformed into a beautifully elaborate meld of soloists in the Qui tollis, complemented by hushed choral asides and well-contoured orchestral playing.

The Credo opened with the sonic equivalent of a defiant fist, in full ceremonial setting, its spectacular wall of sound curiously reminiscent of the seventeenth-century Venetian splendours of the composer Gabrieli.

The choir's tenors introduced the Et incarnates, followed by the smooth duetting of Dark and O'Neill, leading to a rousing Et resurrexit, its bold primary resonances vying with fugal bustle.

Jenny Khafagi's violin obbligato occasionally lapsed into wanness in the Benedictus but, from Martin Snell's noble invocation of the ever-forgiving Lamb of God, the final Agnus Dei was a particularly poignant plea for peace, right through to its obsessively repeated "Dona nobis pacem".

Classical review

What: Auckland Choral

Where: Auckland Town Hall

When: Saturday

Reviewed by: William Dart