Despite its vintage 1940 sound, it was this performance that finally made me feel I understood--and was moved by--this great piece. I had heard Klemperer's and other highly regarded modern recordings, but Toscanini has a special way with this that really remains unmatched by anyone (even his own earlier or later performances). Under other conductors this piece can sound episodic and directionless, simply one swelling chorus after another with not much sense of contrast between each of the movements (e.g., Klemperer). But in the Gloria, for example, Toscanini presents a thrillingly dramatic performance in which tension never lapses and all of the episodes are united into a powerful whole, from the explosive opening to the final shout of "Gloria" by the chorus, and each movement of the work also has a more distinctive character than under other conductors. Toscanini's solists--such as Jussi Bjorling--are also some of the greatest of the age. Obviously you can't expect all the detail and presence of a modern digital recording, but with a single microphone placed behind and above Toscanini, this still gives you a fairly realistic idea of what this might have sounded like live. This new remastering by Music and Arts has brought out even more detail than previous reissues.
Another reviewer that previously appeared here also had this to say:
"This CD preserves a live performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis given on 28th December, 1940 in New York with Toscanini and his NBC Symphony Orchestra. And what an awe-inspiring document it is!
... I found this performance to be magnificent in every respect. While there are other ways to interpret this work, the reading here is an electrifying and inspired one with fiercely committed performances by all concerned. Toscanini's grasp of the massive score is nothing short of magisterial. Not only has he fully realised the structure of the work, every bar, and indeed every note, leaps out with total conviction as well as a sense of musical coherence and inevitability. There is a fiery intensity in the Kyrie and Gloria that can instill a sense of awe and even terror in the staunchest of hearts whereas the Sanctus possesses an abundance of warmth, compassion and humanity which so soothes the soul. This must surely rank as one of the greatest (and most convincing) Beethoven performances ever captured on record.
The vocally luminous quartet of Zinka Milanov, Bruna Castagna, Jussi Bjorling and Alexander Kipnis makes heavenly contribution, especially in the Credo and the Sanctus. Not only is each of them in fine form (which already means a lot having regard to the reputation of these master vocalists), their voices blend beautifully in ensembles and they perform as a team, each complementing the other to great musical and dramatic effect. The Westminster Choir sings with profound dedication, as if their entire life depended on the music. Their accuracy and incisiveness are marvelous (especially in view of some rather fast tempos adopted by the conductor) and their sonority most impressive. The NBC Symphony Orchestra is also on imposing form, and one can easily glean from the recording that the players have all pricked up their ears and responded to the maestro's every inflection with lightning speed and total spiritual identification."