During the Congress of Vienna, when the European map was redrawn following a decade of Napoleonic interventions, Beethoven was commissioned to write a work to hymn the occasion and the new beginning it seemed to offer. The result, the substantial cantata Der Glorreiche Augenblick, was successfully unveiled in November 1814, though little has been heard of it since. The original text has been blamed for the piece's neglect and replaced more than once. In this extremely rare performance, the City of London Choir, under conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, sang a partial rewrite by the German conductor Hermann Scherchen that removes references to Vienna and the Austrian emperor Francis I (under whose auspices the congress was held). But such cosmetic changes only serve to render more anodyne something specific to a historic occasion. Good or bad, the text of The Glorious Moment is probably best left as it is.
The cantata, though no lost masterpiece, is well worth encountering. Despite episodes that are rhetorical or even bland, the best of the 40-minute piece expresses the same kind of humane optimism Beethoven would fully explore in his Ninth Symphony. The final section, in which a children's choir and Turkish instruments add to the general rejoicing, achieves a genuine sense of celebration. The City of London Choir and the Royal Philharmonic were on impressive form throughout.
Davan Wetton programmed it with another piece covering similar ground: Beethoven's 1808 Choral Fantasy, a more consistent work that triumphs over its odd construction to praise the benefits of the arts and music in particular. Leon McCawley was the exemplary piano soloist here, as he was in the Emperor Concerto, which he played with commanding technical authority and a shining, enriched tone.
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