on 25 January 2007
I have to admit I was not that acquainted with Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis". But I was acquainted with Klemperers Beethoven, so I was looking forward to seeing how the maestro would attempt this monumental choral piece! Well! I was not disappointed!!..
Klemperer and his performers gave an electrifying account of, what Beethoven described as his greatest work. And it's easy to see why. We are subjected to eighty minutes of some of the most exquisite music making ever written: Moments of high power and drama lying besides moments of extreme delicacy. And it never goes dull!
Klemperer, to me, has hit the pulse of this work. Orchestral playing, Chorus singing and soloists are all first rate and well balanced.
Recording also sounds fresh and spontaneous, despite it dating from the sixties. The only small problem is that the sound deteriorates somewhat in the last five minutes and the upper choral registers sound a bit muffled (At least on my copy).
But don't let that distract you from getting it. I highly reccommend it. Any music lover should have it in their collection. And it's not too expensive either!..
A live performance of this work may be a bit off but the excitement of the evening will carry it through anyway, so no harm done. A recording, to be played ovar and over again needs to be close to ideal otherwise it will quickly annoy. So when a piece requires a full orchestra, symphony chorus and four soloists - all working together - a recording has a lot to live up to.
Step forward Otto Klemperer. With the New Philarmonia Orchestra and Chorus, he takes Beethoven and wrings every drop of excitement and emotion from an astonishing score. The stately Kyrie is followed by a Kyrie that climbs increasingly craggy emotional heights. Just as you stagger to the top, the performance is scaling the next impossible looking peak beyond.
The Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei follow, each a jewel in their own right. As the final Agnus, Dona Nobis Pacem completes we are, indeed, given immaculate peace.
Unless you have definite notions and want a strictly period performance, there is no other recording that matches this one.
on 27 July 2011
Over the years I have listened to several very good recordings of this sublime music. (Karajan was my first - I still remember the solo violin and the mezzo's "Miserere" from the first time.
I have listened to more "period" recordings as well as the "classic" ones.)
But when hearing the Klemperer recording it was like a door had opened. This is it!
How on earth have I managed not to hear this before? One reason is that I for many years thought that Klemperere was slow and dull. But Daniel Barenboims recordings of the Beethoven piano sonatas led me to his old recordings of the Beethoven piano concerts with Klemperer. And there I found Beethoven as I always have wanted to hear him.
Then I heard Mahler's Lied von der Erde since I was interested in hearing Fritz Wunderlich, and I got Klemperer as part of the "package". And I ended up in awe of his way to give this music a new life.
Now I have listened to Klemperers recording of Missa Solemnis. It is as good as I experienced in my first meeting with it. It's full of drama and intensity. It allows the lyrical parts to be fully lyrical. Every note, line and phrase seems to lead fully natural into the next. There is a breathing that is fully natural, a flow that is never rushed or dead.
Klemperer might not have the most superb soloists. Kmentt is a bit strained and shake sometimes. Talvela doesn't blend in with the others. But Höffgen and Söderström are great. I especially love Söderström in this recording, she has a purity and a radiance in her voice that is out of this world.
And Klemperer has New Philharmonia orchestra and chorus - I can't imagine anything better in this recording. They play and sing with a marvellous focus and dedication.
EMI's choice of recordings for their GROC series sometimes raises the odd eyebrow, but there can be little doubt about the inclusion of this one. Klemperer, recovered from the travails of the previous decade, was in incandescent form despite his advanced age and partial paralysis. So many reviewers have adumbrated the virtues of this noble, majestic account that I won't rehearse them here but will make a few, brief observations. It's not perfect: the fugue concluding the "Quoniam" section of the "Gloria" lumbers somewhat; the soloists are not as starry as Karajan's or Bernstein's; the sound, while good for its age, is inevitably a bit congested - but these are minor cavils set against the transcendence of Klemperer's vision.
In an ideal world, Marga Hoeffgen would be less matronly, although she manages much magnificently; Kmentt would be able to muster more heft and steadiness for the "et homo factus est", Talvela would blend better with his co-singers. However, Soederstroem's soprano is a joy, soaring effortlessly in a manner which almost rivals the peerless Janowitz for Karajan. The greatest glory of this set, apart from Klemperer's direction, is the bite and energy of the New Philharmonia Chorus, expertly drilled by Wilhelm Pitz, and the unaffected mastery of the violin solo in the Benedictus, which goes straight to the heart without being quite as soupy as Karajan's Schwalbe.
It's not the only version of this work to have; Giulini, Bernstein and Karajan also have their story to tell - but it is enough to convert any waverer to the Klemperer school.
on 13 February 2003
Let’s not mince words. Towering, monumental, magisterial, noble - peerless. In this case there is little point in analytical dissection. This recording is a ‘gestalt’, the whole exceeding the greatness of it parts. And this is greatness. An extraordinary symbiosis between composer/conductor. A performance that gloriously achieves the desideratum of providing a genuine objective correlative to Beethoven’s superscript—‘From the heart — may it return to the heart!’ Making the only appropriate response that of the Gramophone reviewer—‘Heartfelt thanks!…’
on 6 September 2012
Let us dispense with any preamble: Klemperer's recording of the "Missa Solemnis", although over 40 years old (but digitally remastered in 2001) is a masterpiece. Despite strong opposition, it remains in a class of its own. There are many reasons for this statement, but I will highlight just a few, for the benefit of anyone wishing to try the work anew, or perhaps seeking to replace their existing performance with an alternative.
The very opening of the work shows us why the performance is special: Klemperer does not merely begin, he hurls the work at us, so that we immediately sit up, and are attentive. We know something great is about to happen. This occurs throughout each movement: the "Gloria" bursts on us, the "Credo" awes us by its great majesty in its compelling and famous opening chords (and equally impressive are its closing moments); the Sanctus is powerfully moving, but a note here: Klemperer's 4 soloists sing the "Pleni sunt caeli" and the "Osanna" (track 8), and not the Chorus, as is usual; I do not believe any other recording does this, but I think it works. However, the finest touch, to my mind, is where Beethoven recalls the horrors of war in the final "Dona Nobis Pacem". Here in particular the intrusions, taken slower than usual, are sinister and chilling, the soprano soloist adding to the horror - I have never heard them played in such a way before, and they make the final descent into peace even more moving.
The Philharmonia Chorus, under the great Wilhelm Pitz, is still unrivalled: the 4 soloists never step outside the boundaries of the performance - Elisabeth Soderstrom in particular is a delight. The Orchestral discipline is strong - nothing is rushed, and nothing is lost. Above all, the detail is clear, concise and the entire performance is immensely powerful, but possessing great tenderness and love.
Two tiny carps: the sleeve note tells us very little about the actual work (apart from giving the text of the Mass)- it talks about the recording, and assumes we know it, so if you don't, try to find an independent analysis beforehand. The other carp is that we are not told the identity of the superb violin soloist in the "Benedictus" - he'd be the leader of the Orchestra, but it would have been nice to have had a name.
The work's dedication (to the Archduke Rudolf) was "From the Heart - may it return to the Heart". Klemperer's performance more than fulfils this dedication, and when you buy it - as I am sure you will - you'll surely understand why.
on 2 October 2006
As Mahler and Schoenberg did before him, Klemperer, born a jew, switched in his youth to chistianity, becoming a catholic. Unlike his mentor Mahler, who made the move out of convenience, he made it out of conviction; unlike Schoenberg, who reclaimed his jewish faith out of the horror of Nazism, Klemperer remained a christian until his death in 1973, just a handful of years before his 90th birthday. This, his second recorded version of the Beethoven Missa Solemnis, is a record for the ages: indeed, if there were a single recording meriting the label "Great Recording of the Century" under which EMI reissue the better of their vast back catalogue, it would certainly be this. That we are before an unusual experience becomes apparent barely a few seconds into the Kyrie, where the power of expression beckons you to listen attentively. The two fugues that respectively close the Gloria and the Credo are designed to overwhelm you, and the Benedictus will force even the most steadfast of agnostics to stand up, make confession and take communion. And if in the 21st century the sound of martial drums and trumpets Beethoven calls for in the Agnus Dei no longer evoke in the listener the horrors of carnage and war as surely they did to Beethoven's early 19th century audience, the deep plea for peace Klemperer exacts from his wonderful choir and outstanding team of soloists will make you question the world around you like nothing else. There's a force of conviction permeating the whole performance that, in spite of Klemperer's usual no-nonsense focus and granitic exposition making no room for sentimentality (as, for example, Karajan's several recorded versions often allow for), shakes you all over. The Kingsway Hall (stereo) recording dates from 1965, and that the 80-year old conductor was able to hold such a formidable control on the vast forces before him is but astonishing; it may sometimes sound harsh and constricted but no matter: with a such a performance behind it, that is just splitting hairs.
on 7 May 2014
I listened to this yesterday - first time for a while. It made me want to write a review. I was going to call the review "true greatness", but b----r me if Ralph didn't do that first.
Klemperer and Tennstedt, for totally different reasons, are my conducting heroes. I by no means know all Klemperer's recordings, but I am familiar with nearly all his Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler, Brahms and the Bach Matthew Passion. It seems to me that Otto's very greatest efforts, especially in later life when some of his output (perhaps) suffered from over- lumbering tempos, were reserved for the great Christian masterpieces. The Matthew Passion, The Missa Solemnis and the German Requiem.
This recording has all the hallmarks of Klemperer's best work: rock solid orchestral texture with unusual prominence for the woodwinds; steady rhythms, but superbly prepared and delivered with terrific attack, so nothing feels static, it all moves; an avoidance of subsidiary incident merely for the sake of prettiness; a lack of artifice; a compelling search for honesty and truth; terrific choral singing. There are no overly ponderous tempos, in fact most tempos are perfectly apt.
Here all of this is matched by the most extraordinary intensity of concentration. It never wavers for a second from first bar to last, and at times, as in the conclusion of the Credo, at the words "and the life of the world to come", and often in the Agnus Dei, the music making achieves incredible fervour.
This might be Otto's greatest moment. If you respond positively to his Beethoven, but don't know this, buy it now. Even if you think you DON'T like Klemperer's Beethoven, this recording may well be the one most likely to change your mind - so buy it anyway.
Occasionally the recording distorts slightly in the loudest passages. This is unusual from this source - I wonder what happened?
Epic! Mighty! Great indeed!
on 19 July 2011
I have noticed that some who amazingly came close to dismissing Klemperer a few years ago are beginning to regret their too hasty support for the younger breed of conductors, many of whom are all fluff. Those who have ears to hear are beginning to return to Klemperer's great interpretations of Beethoven etc. To me Klemperer with Krips remain the greatest interpreters of the classics along with the other Germanic conductors of that glorious period of music making in Berlin, Dresden and Vienna prior to 1932.
on 20 June 2016
I'm certain I'm inviting lots of "unhelpful" votes by giving this anything less than five stars, but I think hearing a different opinion can be useful. And remember, three stars doesn't mean "dislike." But this recording is like Andy Warhol. Once Warhol became famous, everyone became blind. Everything he did (apparently) was genius. This recording too is famous, and now people seem deaf as a result. I have bought this recording multiple times, beginning back in the day on LP, and most recently a year or two ago on CD. It was the first Missa Solemnis I heard. But it has never brought me closer to this music. It was other recordings that helped me make the breakthrough to see what great music this was.
Klemperer's performance has always struck me as "monumental," or perhaps "monolithic," but not too much more. His choir sings beautifully, but the performance as a whole seems amorphous and homogenized--the movements don't (or didn't on last listening) seem well differentiated, despite the fact that in a great performance each has a distinctive mood and character. Here it's just one swelling chorus after another until it finally ends. Many years ago, I listened to this from time to time for several years without being convinced this was great music. THEN I heard the live 1940 Toscanini/NBC performance, and it was like Saul on the Damascus road (you know, the bright light of understanding from the heavens). Finally the music made sense: I could finally hear that it had structure, it had shape. it had direction, it had intense drama. And Toscanini brought both power and subtlety to his interpretation: listen to the beautiful, hushed singing of the chorus at certain moments in the Gloria, or the deeply affecting phrasing that begins the Sanctus. I've never heard any conductor who could bring such a degree of both power and nuance to this work as he did.
Believe it or not (and you should reserve judgment until you hear it), I actually like Ormandy's recording better than Klemperer's, despite the fact that his choir sounds less than ideal to me. In Ormandy's I simply hear more passion and visceral excitement than I do here. Likewise, another stereo recording with comparable or better sound quality is Kubelik's, which I would also prefer to this one. Kubelik, to some extent like Toscanini, manages to negotiate the drastic changes of expression within this piece and bring out the character of each episode while knitting them into a tightly organized and dramatically effective whole.
Klemperer's Missa is fine; you could certainly do worse; and if it has served for others as a convincing introduction to this music, then congratulations. But it just isn't at the top of my list. The "unhelpful" button is below.