Kurt Masur

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

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Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and his Missa Solemnis have a lot in common. Both works come from the composer's last decade. Both works are massively scored for soloists, chorus, and orchestra and both aspire to reveal Beethoven's beatific vision in sound. But for their similarities, Beethoven's Ninth and his Missa Solemnis are not the same work. There are crucial musical differences, one is about its themes while the other is about its text, and there is an even more fundamental difference: one is a symphony while the other is a mass. More bluntly put, one is merely the embodiment of the Enlightenment and the other is a setting of the word of God. Which, when you think about it, is quite a big difference. The problem is that Kurt Masur doesn't seem to have thought about it because while his 1972 recording of the Missa Solemnis with his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is in every way as great as his contemporaneous recording of the Ninth, and it is the same sort of greatness, a secular humanist greatness. Which, as greatness goes, is pretty great; but as superbly sung, superlatively played, and supremely human as Masur's Missa Solemnis is, it lacks spirituality. The true greatness of the Missa Solemnis is its overwhelming sense that the numinous is imminent and for all the real and honest greatness of Masur's recording, one never senses the eternal or the infinite in his Missa Solemnis. Berlin's stereo sound was a bit gray in its day and this digital remastering is only a bit less gray.

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