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[Off The Record]
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Otto Klemperer, New Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra

Just as Beethovenís Ninth Symphony emerged from the secular context of symphonic music to become a quasi-religious affirmation of the brotherhood of man, so his Missa solemnis was the first truly symphonic setting of the Catholic Mass Ordinary. Far more complex and difficult than its companion piece, this is the true large-scale masterpiece of Beethovenís late period, even though it has never approached the Ninthís popularity. Awash in angular harmonies, strange rhythms, abrupt shifts in mood, and anachronistic recollections of earlier church music, the work seems almost too immense in its conception to bring off in performance.

Yet nothing ever seemed too immense for Otto Klemperer, whose New Philharmonia recording is now available in EMIís mid-priced " Great Recordings of the Century " series. Klempererís view of the Missa solemnis is monumental and devotional but never sentimental. He pays scrupulous attention to Beethovenís dynamic markings and perfectly judges most tempos, so that the Latin text on which Beethoven lavished such care is always fully audible, even during the thunderous fanfares of the Gloria, or the dense Et vitam venturi fugue that closes the Credo. And since he maintains a near-ideal balance among orchestra, chorus, and soloists, heís able to let the scoreís details emerge naturally. His reading is at once awestruck and yet utterly human. Conductors as diverse as Toscanini, Giulini, Bernstein, and Herreweghe (the best available period-instrument recording) have all had something important to say about the Missa solemnis, but Klempererís reading is a first-place recommendation for this wonderful, paradoxical work.


Issue Date: May 31 - June 7, 2001

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