Named Conductor of the Year by Musical America in 2015, Gianandrea Noseda drew from his combined Manchester forces a compelling performance of Beethoven’s monumental Mass, comfortably navigating its awkward shifts of tempo and metre and mostly sustaining its dramatic impetus. With only a nod towards religious profundity, a batonless Noseda hammered home the awesome grandeur of the Almighty, underlining Beethoven’s intensity of expression in an account lasting a mere 80 minutes. Passages marked "mit Andacht" (with devotion) may have slid past casually but there was never any sense that this performance lacked spirit and weight.

Gianandrea Noseda © Mark Allan
Gianandrea Noseda
© Mark Allan

It was Sir Colin Davis who once compared the Missa solemnis to scaling Everest, and from a singer's point of view this image is apt, for it should only be attempted by those equipped with energy, stamina and a vocal technique equal to its unremitting demands. Beethoven treats the voices as instruments and without any thought to compromise. So just when you think, for example, you’ve reached the end of the Gloria (its Amens suggest a summit reached) Beethoven unleashes a stratospheric coda requiring still more energy and commitment.

These qualities were brilliantly evident from the Hallé Choir and Manchester Chamber Choir, and spectacularly delivered in the Gloria. Singers portrayed a joyous, heavenly majesty (though they stayed shy of devotional), and were at times almost savage in their abandon. Meticulous preparation of the 200 or so singers ensured confidence and clarity in the Kyrie, where clean ensemble and intonation soon became a default setting – and in the Gloria the quietly intense Et in terra pax was clear enough to take dictation. Elsewhere, there were thrilling top B flats from sopranos, a melting warmth from the tenors at Et incarnatus and incisive entries from all Et vitam venturi.

Less uniform were the solo contributions, (positioned between the chorus and orchestra) where Stuart Skelton – still perhaps thinking he was at ENO and singing Tristan with this bravura performance – too often perforated the quartet textures with little or no reference to vocal balance. Camilla Nylund eventually lengthened her stride from plaintive to radiant soprano, while Birgit Remmert and Hanno Müller-Brachmann were consistent in their sensitivity.

Gianandrea Noseda conducts the BBC Philharmonic, the Hallé Choir and the Manchester Chamber Choir © Mark Allan
Gianandrea Noseda conducts the BBC Philharmonic, the Hallé Choir and the Manchester Chamber Choir
© Mark Allan

Timpanist Paul Turner proved a valiant member of the hard-working BBC Philharmonic, showing us in the Agnus Dei just how much Beethoven was in debt to Haydn (his "Paukenmesse" is a clear influence), and reminding us in its martial rhythms and trumpet alarms that Beethoven had lived through The Siege of Vienna when French troops had occupied the city. Some of the most memorable orchestral playing could be heard in the glowing interlude (dividing the Sanctus and Benedictus) where Gordan Trajkovic was a sweet-toned and consoling violinist. The Henry Willis organ gave additional heft to the orchestra, bringing turbo-charged support in climatic passages.

Ultimately, it was the Noseda’s inspirational direction and an unflagging chorus that made this performance memorable. They not only conquered Everest but seemingly strode all the way to the top.