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Bach: Mass in B minor
Hermann Prey, Johann Sebastian Bach, Otto Klemperer
Bach: Mass in B minor
Genre: Classical
 
  •  Track Listings (11) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (15) - Disc #2

Dated though his conception may be, Otto Klemperer's account of the B Minor Mass has a majesty no other version quite matches. It proceeds from an ennobled, benevolent, Olympian view of the score; and while it sounds decid...  more »

      
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Dated though his conception may be, Otto Klemperer's account of the B Minor Mass has a majesty no other version quite matches. It proceeds from an ennobled, benevolent, Olympian view of the score; and while it sounds decidedly Romantic, it conveys deep feeling and fully realizes the spirit behind the score. Klemperer's chorus and soloists (Janet Baker, in particular) are warmly committed, and the playing of the New Philharmonia shows admirable polish. The recording, from 1967, is spacious if somewhat grainy in texture. --Ted Libbey

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CD Reviews

Great spiritual depth and powerful architecture.
06/06/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is the kind of approach that "authenticists" will loath, particularly regarding the broad tempi and the massive conception (although Klemperer uses a comparatively small choir and orchestra -at least small for 1967). I have seen adjectives such as "victorian", "portentous" or "sanctimonious" attached to this kind of interpretation. The "authenticists" underline elements of instrumentation, size and style, but forget about a dimension which is absolutely essential in the Mass in B Minor: "spiritual authenticity". Bach's music is the product of a man of faith who dedicated all his works to the glory of God. These are the depths reached by an interpreter like Klemperer. You must listen to his Mass in B Minor not as great piece of baroque music (which it certainly is) but above all as a timeless expression of devout faith. All the formal and technical elements are important but ultimately peripheral. Like St. Peter's in Rome, Klemperer's Bach in B Minor is monumental (in the right sense of the word). And like St Peter's you need a certain perspective to appreciate it. It is built in large blocks and it takes time (like the versions by Jochum and Giulini). But the results are overwhelmingly powerful."
Late Klemperer at his best
Derek Lee | St. Paul, MN USA | 07/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If you feel that Bach needs to be intimate, with scaled-down forces, in order to be effective, this definitely is not for you. Klemperer viewed Bach as a monumental, epic composer, and saw the Mass in B minor as not only Bach's greatest work, but the greatest musical creation of Western civilization. I tend to agree with this view; as Wilhelm Furtwangler put it, performing Bach's great choral works with small ensembles is like trying to turn Michelangelo's Moses into a desk trinket without making it appear absurd. In less capable hands such an approach would feel artificial, bloated even, but Klemperer had such a keen sense of form that one always feels the inner logic of the music. As an example, listen the Gloria in excelsis followed by Et in terra pax: in the transition, the powerful and majestic gloria transforms inexplicably but inevitably into the mysterious et in terra, and then gradually, ever so slowly, builds through the fugue to it's climax, even greater in proportions than in the gloria. Klemperer, like Furtwangler, understood that form is not only about differentiating the various themes that occur in a piece, but also placing them in their logical context. Indeed, with the German classics, especially Bach and Beethoven, it is not the themes themselves that carry the spiritual content of the piece, but rather the evolving context in which they are placed. If you compare this recording of the B minor mass to many more modern ones, you can immediately see how rare a gift this is. Most conductors are happy at merely executing the notes precisely, or at best giving a sense of the expression, but the greatest of the great were never happy with this. As Mahler put it, what is best in the music is not to be found in the notes.
As far as the performance quality, the soloists are beyond superb. I have never heard performances of the arias that can touch these. The Philharmonia orchestra is in top form, and the BBC choir, while occasionaly having balance or intonation problems, copes very well with the demands Klemperer places on it. The recorded sound is superb, as one would expect from the late 60's (I have never understood why so many people refuse to listen to non-digital recordings, as if the tiny bit of added clarity digital has to offer makes the performance suddenly worthwhile).
I have often wondered why there was such a difference between Karajan's two studio recordings of the B minor mass, from the 50's and the 70's. The first seems light, airy, and lyrical, while the latter is, put bluntly, overweight. Listening to this, it seems fairly clear to me that Karajan was trying to borrow from Klemperer's approach here: his lack of success is yet more evidence of Klemperer's sovereign command of this music. He only listened to one of his recordings for the pleasure of it: this was it."
A MIRACLE!!!
Ryan Kouroukis | Toronto, Ontario Canada | 09/28/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This ranks as one of the greatest recordings in the history of our time. The BBC chorus is outstanding and the soloists sing with incredible strength and feeling. This set must be on a shelf in every single household, in every home, for all times."