Well, the much-heralded, long-awaited recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is out at last, (Victor, two volumes, Albums M758 & M759), and it is with regret that I report it to be an enormous disappointment. Granted the extreme difficulties posed by a choral work, nothing can justify the arrogant carelessness of a recording which, for all intents and purposes, has been thrown together without the slightest pains taken either in actual recording or in subsequent manufacture. Nothing indicates that the engineers who made the recording attended any rehearsals or had done any experimenting beforehand. The result of bad placing of the microphone is that only the orchestra records well, while the vocal parts are always confused and unclear. The soloists sound as though coming out of a distant fog, and are often completely drowned out by the orchestra. The chorus similarly, when it sings softly, becomes only an indistinct blur; when it opens up the stops, it creates a great huge blaze of speaker-shattering noise. All this could have been avoided with a little preparation. But the sloppiness did not end here. The cut-offs at the ends of records are abominably handled, coming often in the middle of a phrase (the effect is as though the soundtrack has been chopped off with an axe), while on at least three sides there is an entire half-inch of waste space at the beginning, during which the needle scrape-scrapes around, and the listener forgets what was happening at the end of the last side. All this without mentioning defects in the performance, such as Koussevitzky's ponderous tempo in the "Credo," and the inadequacy of the solo tenor.
In contrast to the bungled recording of the Missa is Victor's album of Mediaeval and Renaissance Choral Music (M739), sung by the Pius X School of Liturgical Music. This is a fascinating collection of early chants and cathedral liturgies, with selections from later masters like Obrecht, Taverner, and Palestrina, beautifully performed by the all-female chorus of the Pius X School.
Columbia has issued a new pressing of the Brahms Third Symphony by Stock and the Chicago Orchestra (Album M443). This comes on top of the excellent Weingartner recording put out only two years ago by Columbia, and the differences between the two performances are strikingly illustrative of a difference in Brahms interpretation. Weingartner breezes through the symphony lightly and lyrically; Stock lays on it a heavy German hand. Stock's way of playing it is in the real Brahms tradition. It is the way Brahms himself played his symphonies. But whether or not Brahms knew what was good for Brahms is another matter, and the lighter, more flexible style seems to me to have more life. . . . Another Columbia recording offers the Venusberg music from Tannhaueser, whipped up a bit too violently, and rather flatly recorded, but not too bad for all that.