In 1967, while a student at RCM, Sir Adrian Boult conducted us in a performance
of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. It was an unforgettable experience.
Then tragedy entered my life and for personal reasons I could not listen
to this piece again. Overcoming my grief and some 25 years later I attended
a performance by a British conductor, who is currently the blue-eyed boy
among conductors, and the performance was so typically eccentric of the conductor
and so excruciatingly bad that I determined that my love for this piece was
only due to its memories. But hearing Toscanini's account thrilled me. And
it proves once again that a much-admired conductor is not necessarily a good
conductor and how good a conductor Toscanini was. The performance on this
disc is almost faultless. Nothing solemn, ponderous or dull here but life
and vitality that, for example, is the antithesis of Klemperer's dreary
performances of Beethoven. Here is captured a majesty and a power suggesting
both the greatness of God and His power. Beethoven's greatness is captured
too. My goodness how well he could write noble music without pomposity and
grotesque allargandos. And how equally well Toscanini brings out all the
power and the passion in both the choir and orchestra. He achieves this by
tempi which never drags and by his legendary attention to detail.
At times, the music is too exciting, too much for we mortals to take. The
Gloria is simply superlative with its braying horns, clattering timpani
and wonderful high spirits.
And yet in the final two movements the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei,
both marked adagio we have performances of magical beauty ... deeply
felt and very telling. The extended violin solo in the Sanctus is
The version of the Choral Symphony is a good account. The tenor is
disappointing and he is the soloist on the historical 1939 recording with
Toscanini reviewed last month
on Naxos (8.110824) which I prefer for its wonderful attack and ruggedness.
But this 2CD set is very welcome.