Otto Klemperer / WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln

Beethoven: Missa solemnis

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While this live 1955 performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with Otto Klemperer leading the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester und Chor will not replace his 1965 recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus in the hearts and minds of music lovers, anyone who admires the conductor or the piece should hear it. Klemperer's approach here is more aggressive and only somewhat less monumental than in his later account, providing a better sense of Beethoven's power and energy. The sound is quite fine, considering this is a live radio broadcast performance from the era before stereo. Details emerge with surprising clarity, and the overall impact of the recording is amazing. It does have weaknesses, though. The Cologne Orchestra and Chorus are not in the same virtuoso league as the London-based musicians, and their performance, while clearly dedicated, is occasionally shaky, and often close to sounding sloppy. The singers, with the exception of Josef Greindl's awe-inspiring bass, are likewise not in the same league as in the later recording, but they are never less than adequate. This Missa Solemnis eclipses nearly every subsequent recorded performance -- Karajan's, Solti's, and Bernstein's, for example, come off as puny and ill-mannered in comparison -- but it does not surpass Klemperer's 1965 version, which is generally considered the finest recording of the work.