Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale presents ‘Beethoven Unleashed’ later this month, a program that includes two of his works, his Mass in C and the Choral Fantasy, which are frequently compared to his other choral masterpieces. Philharmonia Chorale’s director, Bruce Lamott describes them as ‘Beethoven-Light,’ but only in comparison to the Missa Solemnis and his Ninth Symphony. The full orchestra and chorus will be joined by soloists, who will also perform an elegiac work by Cherubini written to honor Haydn – who the younger composer heard had died, but actually hadn’t.
There’s more information about the concerts at the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra website.
The Beethoven works on this program can’t help but remind audiences of larger works that would follow. But as Lamott says, they’re fine pieces that aren’t oversized spectacle. “The C major Mass was actually a mass that could still be performed… there was a priest, and there was a liturgy, and it was performed for the name day, maybe not in a strict liturgical setting. Missa Solemnis: too big, too long, all of that.” The Mass in C was commissioned by Prince Esterhazy, and that also led to an unfortunate comparison. “The C Major mass is a beautiful work. It suffered primarily because it came in the shadow of Haydn, who had composed six masses annually for the Esterhazy family, and then it was up to Beethoven. And Beethoven decided to innovate. And the last thing you want to do following a legend, is innovate.” So he begins the Kyrie with basses singing very softly, and in several movements upends tradition. “The Choral Fantasy, which is also a very interesting piece, has little glimpses, kind of foreshadowing of the Ninth Symphony.” Its original reception was colored by its place on the program, ending a concert that included the premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and 2 movements of the Mass in C. “So he had a choir, and he had an orchestra, and he had already improvised and played a piano concerto. He needed a closer that the audience would like. Well, they would have liked it had the concert not been four hours long before that.”