2 Gardiner's genius—for that is what his capacity for renewal amounts to—is plentifully in evidence here, but the first minutes of the Mass did not strike me as boding well. Usually so good at seeing (and making his listener see) what one might call 'the face' on a sheet of music, he seems surely to have got it wrong this time. Here he makes us see the lines of the face going downwards, as in a worried expression; and of course it is true that the opening movement, the Kyrie eleison, is a plea for mercy. But its opening bars speak of comfort; there is almost the simple good faith of a quiet, very Germanic carol about them. Gardiner sets a mood of deliberate seriousness, with lowered period, pitch and a tempo rather slower than that suggested by Beethoven's (admittedly hedged-around) direction: Andante con moto, assai vivace, quasi allegretto ma non troppo. He also appears to have encouraged the soloists, especially the soprano, to shape and shade the phrases, so intensifying the feeling of seriousness and deliberation. Happily, this policy (if indeed that is what it is) prevails for only a short time, and to some extent the music itself goes out to meet it. As the second Kyrie (following the Christe) moves towards its climax, the fortissimo brings suspensions where the alto part grinds against the soprano, and then come sudden fortissimos with intense modulations and momentary discords, all of which are particularly vivid in this performance. Chailly's highly likeable Decca recording already grows dim by comparison.
What follows has the same exhilarating quality as that which was so applauded in last year's Gramophone Awards Record of the Year, the Missa solemnis (Archiv Produktion, 3/91) and, just as he did there, Gardiner is constantly illuminating detail while maintaining an apparently easy natural rightness throughout. Examples are: the dotted rhythm of ''Et in terra pax'' which dances for joy (as well it might) at the notion of a peaceful world; the sharply articulated triplets in the brass at ''Deus omnipotens'' and ''Qui locutus est''; the effect of what on the page looks like a very ordinary bit of choral writing at ''Confiteor'' in the Credo. Many broader and more crucial points could be instanced; but once you've started noting the details it is unlikely that the overall effectiveness will go unappreciated.
As in the Missa solemnis, an outstanding contribution is made by the Monteverdi Choir. Splendidly athletic, for instance, are the leaps of a seventh in the fugal ''Hosanna''. The tonepainting of Meeresstille finds them marvellously alert and vivid in articulation; while greatly admiring the performance under Chailly (and missing in the English singers the deep bass of the Germans in the opening), I find the Gardiner recording newly exciting, as well as achieving a better balance between chorus and orchestra. The scena Ah! perfido brings a similar sense of renewal: there is not even a momentary suspicion of concert routine, but rather as though it is part of an exceptionally intense performance of Fidelio. Charlotte Margiono sings the angry passages with the concentration of a Schwarzkopf, and brings to those that are gentler-toned a special beauty of her own. The other soloists in the Mass sing well if without distinction. Distinction is certainly a word to use of the record as a whole.
-- Gramophone [11/1992]