At the end of the Choral Arts Society's performance of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" under Norman Scribner yesterday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, the members of the almost-capacity audience started slowly to rise in a quiet ovation until everyone was standing. It didn't go on for long, but obviously the people felt strongly.

More than anything else it was in reverence to the magnificent work--though the performance itself was splendid.

Who is to say what is Beethoven's crowning achievement? Out of dozens of his masterpieces, though, this writer would single out the "Missa," the C sharp minor quartet and the "Eroica" Symphony. No one has ever written music finer than that.

How the deaf, desperate and dying Beethoven could create something that wipes one out emotionally like the "Missa," one of his last works, is hard to understand.

Yesterday, in particular, the repeated cries of "Pacem" -- Peace -- at the end of the Angus Dei hit one like a bombshell at this time in which we seem to be finally starting to come to terms with what happened in Vietnam.

It is not so much a militant demand for peace as it is an eloquent appeal--even considering the martial moments that intrude in the Angus Dei, and Scribner conducted it this way.

The aggressiveness of the Credo was a little subdued. Even the size of the orchestra was surprisingly reduced to give room for the huge -- and superb sounding -- chorus.

Just like Beethoven, the chorus was at its best.