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Customer reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
Format: Audio CD|Change
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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!
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on 8 May 2011
Klemperer is completely masterful in this superb recording, which despite its age can stand comparison with the best of them. The soloists on the Karajan DG version may be even finer but the choral singing here is unsurpassed.
There have been a number of recent versions with cleaner, slimmer sounding forces (Gardiner, Herreweghe etc) but for sheer epic grandeur and splendour this is pretty unbeatable.
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on 31 March 2015
I hadn't heard this recording until recently but bought it thinking that a Klemperer recording must be OK-I'm listening to it at this moment and am entranced,if you can use such as oldfashioned word.Not only do we have the Klemperer precision and depth,but the soloists seem to give just that bit more that you'd expect
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on 15 October 2013
This is a lovely CD of one of Beethoven's most famous pieces of music.

Just sit back and let this stunning music wash over you. The New Philharmonia Orchestra are brilliant along with the choir, and bring great dignity to this excellent work. Go on - treat yourself!
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on 17 September 2016
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 31 May 2009
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.
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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.
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on 27 September 2017
I read the five-star reviews on this recording and chose this from among the countless other renditions. And it is truly great. Majestic. Redoubtable. Beethoven at his most Beethovenesque. But, for all that, I can't help harbouring the nagging suspicion that Ludwig was trying just a bit too hard here. There is very little art concealing art; instead you can feel the maestro's baton poking you repeatedly in the solar plexus for all 76 minutes.

The Klemperer recording is pin-sharp and warrants the praise heaped on it by other correspondents. Not to disparage the great piece too much (it really is very good indeed, don't get me wrong), but I need a bit of a lie down after listening to this. It took Beethoven five years to compose and I can certainly do with a good 20 minutes to recover from it and a couple of paracetamol. One really needs to set aside some time to Listen to it. It's not a great accompaniment to your morning coffee though.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 June 2017
I decided to return to Klemperer's recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, opus 123, after listening to an excellent recent recording by Kenneth Schermerhorn and the Nashville Symphony Orchestra on Naxos. I wanted hear a historic recording of Beethoven's masterpiece to complement the performance by Schermerhorn.This recording by Otto Klemperer (1885 - 1973)and the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus dates from 1965. The soloists are Elisabeth Soderstrom, soprano, Marga Hoffgen, contralto, Waldmemar Kmentt, tenor, and Martti Talvela, bass. The recording was instantly accepted as a classic, and it remains so today.

Beethoven composed the Missa Solemnis near the end of his life, and the work represents, as many critics have noted, Beethoven's attempt "to come to terms with God". (Lewis Lockwood, "Beethoven: the Music and the Life, p. 405) Although born a Catholic, Beethoven was not a regular churchgoer. As he became older, Beethoven became increasingly preoccupied with spiritual concerns. He was familiar with and drawn to the work of liberal theologians of his day who stressed the personal, inner, and seeking character of religious life over adherence to dogma and ritual. (Lockwood, p. 403)

The highly personal character of Beethoven's religious search, as expressed in his Missa Solemnis, might make the work particularly appealing to listeners today who are skeptical of particular creeds and of organized religious institutions. Otto Klemperer was himself a lifelong seeker in terms of religion. Born a Jew, he converted to Roman Catholicism only to return again to Judaism late in his life. The difficulties of the Missa Solemnis -- in terms of the wide disparity of style and tone among its movements, its use of archaic modalities and musical forms, its contrasts of lyricism and fury, might be explained by remembering the personal character of the work and its place in Beethoven's own religious search.

Klemperer's recording of the Missa Solemnis is epic in character and possessed of a craggy grandeur. He captures the religious, highly idiosyncratic character of Beethoven's score and wields the work into a unity. The chorus and the soloists sing with passionate intensity.
The Missa Solemnis is in five movements. It begins with a solemn orchestral introduction to the opening solemn Kyrie. The middle movements, the Gloria and the Credo, feature passionate and fiery opening sections and lengthy fugues for their conclusions. The fourth movement, a Sanctus, has lovely, florid passages for solo violin which accompany in turn the soloists and the chorus. The final movement, Agnus Dei, involves a musical contrast between a march and warlike theme in the orchestra and moments of transcendent peace at the conclusion. Beethoven marked this final movement as a "Prayer for Inner and Outer Peace." (Bitte um innern und aussern Frieden.)

Many listeners and critics have difficulty with the Missa Solemnis. It has been described as "Beethoven's least approachable work." (William Drabkin, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, p. 1) As I noted, the difficulties are largely due to the wide variety of musical styles that Beethoven utilized in this composition and to the difficulty of integrating these difficult, diverse styles into a coherent whole. Klemperer's reading on this disc brings out the character of each movement of this other-worldly music.

In his biography of Beethoven mentioned above, Lewis Lockwood wrote (p.411) that the Missa Solemnis was Beethoven's "largest contribution to the expression of the spiritual, in the various senses of the term, [and] is also a symbolic representation of humanity's search for peace that can only be discovered through religious feeling, collectively and personally." Both Klemperer's classic recording and Schermerhorn's recent recording will help the listener approach this work. The Missa Solemnis is a music for many times and places. Each new version will carry something of Beethoven's message to the receptive listener.

Robin Friedman
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on 5 June 2015
Cannot imagine a better recording! This takes your breath away!
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