"I knew and owned this recording when it was published in the sixties; I played it so much that the vinyl disc became unplayable... Ever since that time I was looking for a recording of the Mass in B Minor, but none of what I found could come close. This record is so full of life, of feelings... I used to say that for just about any human feelings one can find parts of this recording to match it.
It is also on this recording that I got to know the voice of Janet Baker, which is quite amazing. One can recognize the special timbre of her voice whenever she sings; it is a unique experience."
A great performance in an updated remastering
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 10/11/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is EMI's curent remastering of Klemperer's classic B minor Mass from 1967. Along with Klemperer's St. Matthew Passion, this recording was the summit of what he could do in Bach. The vocal soloists are wonderful, especially the women led by Janet Baker. In retrospect these were the best Bach singers in Europe, and the ones we hear on period performances from Gardiner and Herrenweghe, among others, are inferior by comparison. Over and over we get accomplished vocal technicians without spiritual involvement in Bach's passionate Protestantism (blessed exceptions being Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Thomas Quasthoff).
The Philharmonia Chrous at this time was probably the best in the world. Klemperer's tempos are stately but full of life in their inward way, and the overall experience fills one with Bach's sense of joyful worship. "
Yellow Caution Tape!
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 05/27/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)
"If a thriving community of Homo neanderthalis were discovered in a volcano-warmed valley of the Svalsbard Islands, I'd hope the international community would have the sense to cordon them off and leave them alone. Sometimes our past is best left in peace. That's surely the case with most performances of Bach before the revelations of the "Early Music" movement, and especially the case with this lumbering Neanderthal recording of Bach's B minor Mass by Otto Klemperer. It should be sealed in a museum case as prime evidence of why the efforts to relearn the techniques of Baroque singing and of playing original instruments were absolutely crucial. Klemperer must have misunderstand the word Mass, thinking of it in physical terms as something heavy to be dragged until all musical energy was converted to square hinders on the concert pews.
I found my old vinyl edition of this performance while searching for every B minor I've ever owned. This one is in pristine condition, suggesting that even in the 1960s I didn't like it much. Well, the only worse performance I've ever heard was von Karajan's. If this is what some people hear as "spiritual" Bach, okay, okay, don't let me spoil it for you. Personally, it sounds conscience-ridden and sanctimonious to me. Besides, the soloists are vilely out of tune most of the time, and if you can't hear the tuning problems, perhaps your ears just aren't skilled at recognizing basic intervals - thirds, fifths, and such. Janet Baker was a brilliant singer, probably my favorite of her generation, but even she can't overcome the thick textures Klemperer wraps around every passage. The first soprano-alto duet in the Christe eleison, for instance, sounds exactly like my two old-maid aunts caterwauling together on the Lutheran Sundays of my rural childhood. It took centuries to corrupt European vocal technique with constant vibrato, and only one generation to purge it. Hallelujah!
I can recommend four modern performances of the B minor Mass, all of them vibrant: Andrew Parrott's, Philippe Herreweghe's, Ton Koopman's, and John Eliot Gardiner's. I haven't heard the Bach Collegium Japan's performance, under Masaaki Suzuki, but I'd expect it to be outstanding."
Johannes Climacus | Beverly, Massachusetts | 02/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though hardly a Baroque "specialist," Klemperer was one of the greatest Bach interpreters of his generation. Do not expect from him the brisk tempos, energetic rhythms and light textures of current period performance practice. If you are not used to more traditional Bach interpretations, patience may be called for. But patience will be rewarded, for Klemperer's dignified conception of the B-Minor Mass is little short of awe-inspiring.
Klemperer's success in this work hinges on his ability to convey a sense of mystery without introducing gratuitous expressive gestures such as sudden dynamic shifts or manipulation of tempo within a movement. For the most part, he maintains a rock-steady pulse and long-breathed lines, while managing effortlessly to highlight contrapuntal detail along the way. His subtle inflection of voice-leading even in the denser thickets of Bach's polyphonic textures is masterly. In fact, no conductor I have heard in this work clarifies texture and structure better than Klemperer.
There are some drawbacks. Klemperer is better at conveying majesty than rambustious joy and thus certain movements are wanting in vitality, particularly "Gloria in excelsis Deo," "Cum Sancto Spiritu," and "Osanna in excelsis." One does want more rhythmic spring, too, in movements such as "Laudamus Te" and "Et in unum Dominum." His chorus manages to articulate well for a relatively large group, though they don't achieve anything like the clarity and agility of which today's early-music ensembles are capable. I must also note that by this stage in his career, Klemperer was not always able to exert perfect control over his forces, so that there are moments of un-coordinated ensemble and a few other slips here and there.
In the end, however, these drawbacks recede to insignificance when compared with Klemperer's overall achievement in this work. Throughout, he has the benefit of superb vocal and instrumental soloists to assist him. Among the former, Janet Baker, Agnes Giebel, and Franz Crass are outstanding; for some, their contribution alone will be worth the price of admission. The recording, which was originally rather opaque on LP, has been transformed in this digital remastering, so that the sonics now convey a greater sense of presence and amplitude.
Adventurous listeners who enjoy exploring historic recordings, and who have an open mind when it comes to stylistic matters, will find that this is one to treasure. Bach with dignity is seldom encountered on the fast lane of the contemporary early-music scene, and for that reason Klemperer's version of the B-minor Mass provides an invaluable and refreshing supplement to whatever early-music renditions of the work you may already own."
kelsie | Plainview, Texas United States | 05/21/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Otto Klemperer's powerful reading of the Mass is stamped all over by his fervently, almost overwhelmingly religious conception of this huge work.
He falls into the more "traditional" interpretation of Bach that was very popular in the mid-twentieth century, before Bach was abruptly handed over to the "scholar-musician" and the consequent "historically-informed performance" movement. What this means, then, is that Klemperer's performance is worlds away from more recent luminaries such as John Eliot Gardiner or Martin Pearlman.
The Philharmonia and the BBC Chorus play and sing with obvious devotion to the music and its message, giving the reading a very heartfelt, devotional quality. The opening "Kyrie!" is a monumental blast of sound that will shock listeners unfamiliar with the "Big Bach" interpretation that's now out of style. Tempi are spacious, but Klemperer paces the recording very well. Thus, the first "Kyrie, eleison" is a nearly fourteen minute long pleading lament, the "Gloria in excelsis, Deo" abruptly becomes a stately dance, imbued with a greater sense of vivaciousness and motion.
In the numbers highlighting the massed voices, the BBC Chorus sing with force and confidence, but the sound quality--given the age and despite the best remastering--is unforgiving. This leaves the chorus muddled in areas and blunts the ensemble's full power (for example, in the "Confiteor"). The "Sanctus" is wonderful, and Klemperer's moderately paced tempo means that the piece never drags or swings too much.
The soloists are all of a high quality, but again the age of the recording itself is a detriment to their sound. The soprano does an especially fine job tackling Klemperer's slow tempi in the complicated "Laudamus Te." A minor complaint is the tenor's "Benedictus": he's a little over the top in passages.
Sound quality is shaky, but the recording benefits from the best modern technology offered in 1990. Klemperer isn't the best place to start, but he makes a striking contrast to the more pristine, secularized interpretations of this piece (and of Bach in general) popular now."