At periodic intervals there have been little out bursts in these columns about the marauding vagaries of Serge Koussevitzky. There have been complaints, often justified, about thin Mozart tones being swollen into Lisztian voluptuousness, about batteries of double basses grinding out Bach fugues, about programs of Morton Gould and Samuel Barber. But, instead of picking our noses to find something to grumble about, let us realize that Serge Koussevitzky is a very fine conductor, the Harvard Glee Club and Radcliffe Choral Society is a very fine choral group, the Boston Symphony is a superb orchestra, and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis is one of the greatest artistic creations of Western civilization. A good time was had by all.
There has been a lot of ink spilled over the grandeur of the Missa. Bulbous-headed little men have gone around spreading the misconception that the Missa isn't really a mass at all, much less a dirty old Catholic mass. Catholic masses are supposed to be sung in monotones by corrupt priests in faraway places. But this is a philosophy; it has a profound message for the initiate and plenty of sex for young and old. As a result of all this drivel, the Missa has been turned in finale furioso of the concert stage and it has been divorced, to as great a degree as possible, from any real point that it has. Its religious message, to use the vile phrase, has been swapped for a fistful of Romantic brotherhood of man cliches.
It is only in so great a performance as that of Koussevitzky's last night that the Missa can transcend such a fog of intellectualism, can transcend the secularism of Symphony Hall, teeming with myriad nobodies feverishly clutching their programs. But by so great a performance it can and did transcend these bonds and become the religious credo that it was meant to be. To explain verbally what this meaning is is quite hopeless. The critic pokes into a piece of music from the outside with a long pointed stick, but he can never get at the real essence. To anyone in the audience last night, the meaning could be realized. An attempt to convey that realization to anyone else by a deal of linguistic virtuosity would be quite absurd.
About the participants there is little to be said except to commend them all. The chorus sang excellently, and they knew exactly what they were doing, which is always a help. Ditto for the orchestra. The soloists, Ellen Faull, Eunice Alberts, David Lloyd, and George London, were almost uniformly fine (I found the Agnus Dei particularly well done), and over them all was Koussey, red-faced and snorting, combining his usual technical perfection with a magnificent conception of what it was all about, outdoing himself, as the saying goes. Champagne and lotus blossoms for all hands.