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Beecham's 1937 recording of
Beethoven's 'Missa Solemnis'


The Beecham Collection. Beethoven: Missa Solemnis © 2001 SOMM Recordings

Our ears, polished as they are now to razor sharpness, have difficulty in adjusting to recordings of the 1930s -- which is a pity when the performances were musically such fine events. This is another in the series of re-mastered recordings issued as The Beecham Collection which includes relatively little Beethoven. Beecham is not readily associated with Beethoven, although he gave many extremely stylish and highly praised performances of the symphonies.

The Missa Solemnis he performed only twice, and this recording is of the live performance for the Leeds Triennial Festival at the Town Hall on the morning of 5 October 1937. There is some distortion at the beginning of the Kyrie [listen -- track 1, 0:03-1:02] caused by wear on the original pressing, and throughout the recording suffers from inbalances which often obscure woodwind solos, but there is so much of great beauty in the performance that it would be a pity not to allow the ear to forgive technical infancy and hear beyond its limitations.

The soloists are superb. Isobel Baillie, Mary Jarred, Heddle Nash and Keith Falkner make an exquisite quartet, and the balanced stamina of the Leeds Festival Chorus, lasting as it does with spirited tension and power to the very end, is impressive. It achieves its inspired and most moving heights in the Benedictus [listen -- track 9, 7:15-8:17], with the London Philharmonic's leader David McCallum soaring above those fine soloists, and in the Agnus Dei where the loss of some woodwind detail into the background is unfortunate but not too serious, especially if one follows the performance with a study score.

This is a recording worth having, if only to appreciate Beecham's great artistry and musical insight, and the warmth of that flexible style of string and vocal performance which today is never heard, and make this a historical treasure.

Copyright © 13 July 2002 Patric Standford, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, UK


The Beecham Collection - Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

SOMM-BEECHAM 11 ADD Mono Reissue 78'10" 2001 Somm Recordings

Isobel Baillie, soprano, Mary Jarred, contralto, Heddle Nash, tenor, Keith Falkner, baritone, Leeds Festival Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham

Beethoven: Mass in D major Op 123 (Missa Solemnis)




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Saturday series of shorter CD reviews