Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A powerful message of defiance

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis, op. 123

Toscanini recorded the Missa Solemnis four times: there's a commercial recording that RCA made in 1953, a BBC recording from 1939, and an earlier broadcast from 1935. But the consensus pick for the best is this one, made in New York for radio broadcast on December 28, 1940. There's some outstanding singing here, especially from tenor Jussi Björling and bass Alexander Kipnis. The female voices and the choir haven't been universally praised, but in spite of some flaws I found the drama of this work absolutely gripping. So much of the credit for this goes, of course, to the Maestro at the podium. He's given reasonably good sound considering the vintage and the circumstances, though there are certainly balance issues and some sections when the sound is more than slightly muddy. But even then one feels Toscanini's humanistic ethos, delivered with a visceral excitement, what Russell Platt referred to as "the moral ferocity of Toscanini’s aesthetic". This is a defiant message to the monsters of Fascism he had left behind in Europe, and the message can be heard (and, sadly, still has to be heard) just as strongly today.

Though he isn't mentioned in connection with this IDIS re-issue, which uses a clean and (mostly) clear digital re-mastering made in Milan in 2001, we are indebted to RCA recording engineer Robert Hupka for the preservation of this and so many other Toscanini recordings from the war years. Hupka is also known for the photographs he took of the Maestro during this period. The mesmerizing look which brought such powerful results from his musicians more than 75 years ago connects with us like a laser today, in this, the 150th year since Toscanini's birth. This disc will be released on November 3, 2017.

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