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It is an attractive idea to pair Beethoven’s Mass in C with the C minor Piano Concerto, here recorded at two separate live concerts. It’s hard to believe that Beethoven had to try a mild form of blackmail to get his publisher to take his Mass in C by threatening not to give them his 5th and 6th Symphonies. The composer was breaking new ground and the music audience of the time would not receive easily his wonderfully joyous, symphonic concept of the Mass. Experimentalists of their time find it hard to be understood.

This is a stunning performance. The San Francisco Symphony Chorus is one of the finest I’ve ever heard and great credit must be given to its chorus director Ragnar Bohlin. Michael Tilson Thomas marshals together this first-class force of soloists, chorus and orchestra and, bringing out all the joyous drama of the score, drives them to a dazzling performance.

Over the years the virtuosity of Emanuel Ax has remained unimpaired, and he brings wisdom to his reading of the piano concerto that is partnered by the innate understanding of Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. The bravura element of the first movement is brought out with great verve, contrasting with a sensitive interpretation of the more lyrical passages. This leads into the spell cast by the second movement, bringing the whole work to a close with a sparkling Rondo. It’s a most enjoyable performance.

SHIRLEY RATCLIFFE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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