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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Missa Solemnis in D, Op. 123 [75:27]
Annelies Kupper (soprano); Sieglinde Wagner (contralto); Rudolf Schock (tenor); Josef Greindl (bass); Kölner Rundfunkchor; Chor des Norddeutschen Rundfunks
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/Otto Klemperer
rec. Funkhaus, Sall1, WDR Cologne, 6 June 1955
MEDICI MASTERS MM015-2 [75:27]

Klemperer was a great Beethoven conductor; the Missa Solemnis is one of Beethoven’s greatest works. For many musicians both of these statements are true, but unfortunately that does not necessarily make this a great recording of the work.
Klemperer made two commercial recordings of the Mass, in 1951 for Vox and in 1965 for EMI. Falling between the two, this performance might be expected to combine the virtues of the younger and more vigorous conductor together with a longer rehearsal time than he had been permitted for his first recording. Unfortunately these are linked to a recording and possibly a performance which completely irons out the contrasts both inherent and essential in this music. For much of the time the work sounds matter of fact and lacking in contrast. Klemperer’s wonderful ability to meld movements together into a whole – especially in the Credo – is evident, and he achieves a marvellous cumulative tension to each movement, but in the absence of that feeling of tension which I regard as an essential part of the work’s character, I found listening to it a lifeless experience.
I write this with great regret, having heard Klemperer live on many occasions and I have been profoundly moved by his live and recorded Beethoven performances. The soloists are generally good and the orchestra and chorus are much more than that, but the ironing out of contrast, possibly largely due to the recording, means that the work has nothing like the impact that it can, and surely should, have. I listened to the 1939 Toscanini recording – equally let down by its recording – immediately after it and straightaway appreciated, despite the coarse brass and variable soloists, that that was a performance which went right to the heart of this extraordinary music. The present recording is worth hearing as an example of how Beethoven’s quirky changes of time and character can be successfully linked together into a whole, but overall it fails to do justice to the work. Otherwise it can be recommended only to fans of the conductor who must have everything he did.
John Sheppard


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