Top positive review
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Profound and revelatory
on 7 February 2012
According to the booklet, Otto Klemperer considered the Mass in B minor to be the greatest music ever written. Accordingly he put all his long experience into the production of this recording, insisting on reduced forces and soloists whose voices would suit the music. The BBC Chorus and New Philharmonia were possibly the best in Britain at the time, and it is hardly possible to imagine a better team of soloists. EMI's engineers also did a good job, although there is some congestion in the loudest passages.
The first Kyrie is taken at about crotchet/quarter-note = 40, which seems painfully slow at first, but have patience and listen to the gradual unfolding of this magnificent fugue. Klemperer had the ability to convince the listener that his way was right, no matter how unconventional. Thereafter, the tempi are generally more as usually heard, and in those other sections which are taken slowly, again listen and be convinced.
The possible downside of this performance is that in some movements the players sound to be unfamiliar with Bach's style (perhaps they were at that time) and there is, to me at least, a certain sense of struggle. It is possible that this is what Klemperer wanted, but nowhere is there an easy fluency such as Richter achieves with his Munich orchestra. The choir is excellent and the soloists are beyond reproach.
This interpretation has depth, grandeur, majesty in abundance and magnificent solo/duet singing, Janet Baker's Agnus Dei especially. Recommended, but if you like more vitality and joy in your Mass, listen to Richter.