Otto Klemperer's justly famous recording of the complete Bach Mass has rightly
held almost legendary status for over three decades and for many this is
his last sacred word on one of the greatest composers of all time. Still,
Testament have once again come to the rescue and have managed to fish out
these rare mastertapes of an aborted attempt to record the Mass seven years
earlier together with a short rehearsal sequence. Comparisons with the latter
account are instructive here, however I for one found myself eminently more
comfortable with these saner and more spiritual readings than the occasional
stodginess that permeates the 1967 version.
A case in point is the beautiful Kyrie which unfolds with almost disarming
simplicity here whilst it takes on an almost hallowed and unreal quality
with the NPO. The singing is also consistently more upbeat in 1961 although
occasional lapses of co-ordination are understandable due to the lack of
editing. The spontaneous glories of the magnificent 'Gloria' are almost
hair-raising in both versions with the Gratias agimus tibi in particular,
benefiting from the expansive and solemn treatment. There is also much to
admire in the 'Credo' which breathes a stimulant life and contains much
spectacular singing. I particularly warmed to the amazing beauties of the
'Confiteor' with its soaringly magnificent melodies and the firm contrapuntal
line established by Klemperer.
It is hardly appropriate to suggest that Klemperer was in much better shape
in 1961 when these takes were recorded but, curiously the 1967 performance
seems much better prepared and, slow tempi aside is a miraculous experience
in every way. Alan Sanders tends to disagree with this in his authoritative
liner notes that accompany the CD although consultations with Friedrich Smend
on the lightness of texture and clarity in Bach performances are an added
advantage just the same. It is also worth noting that Klemperer used the
BBC Singers for his complete studio recording and that, intentionally, the
Philharmonia Chorus were to provide for posterity.
Indeed, the chief glory of this reissue is the inspired singing of the chorus
especially in the concluding 'Dona nobis pacem' where the grandeur of Bach's
vision is matched by the architectural strengths of Klemperer's precise
conducting. The additional rehearsal sequence reveals a conductor completely
in command of an orchestra, but in no way a tyrant. It is also amusing to
eavesdrop on such historic sessions! Testament's remastering is superb with
the clarity and depth of the original recordings considerably enhanced. It
is indeed appropriate to quote Klemperer here:
'For me, Bach's Mass in B Minor is the greatest music ever written'
When performed with such reverence and in whatever guise by an untiring disciple
of the master, this titanic Mass indeed takes its place amongst the musical
wonders for all time.