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Any performance of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis done in Boston these day's can't help but be compared to Serge Koussevitzky's interpretation of the same work, either as performed in Symphony Hall two years ago or as released on records. The version given by Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony, the Glee Club, and the Radcliffe Choral Society, yesterday afternoon was certainly different, and in many places better.
Munch's interpretation of the great D Major Mass was by all odds more dramatic. He achieved this effect by having everything played faster, with more dynamic contrasts, and with more snap. Whether or not yesterday's concert was good or bad, depends largely on the individual. But nobody who heard it can deny that it led to an extremely exciting afternoon.
The Missa Solemnis is a monumental piece of music. It was written towards the end of Beethoven's life when he was way ahead of his age musically. Hence, there is nothing obvious about it. It contains little or no development of themes, and it passes over each musical idea so quickly that the unfamiliar are soon lost and unappreciative.
Munch and the vast number of people on the Symphony Hall stage did their best to clarify this setting of the Roman Catholic Mass. By giving it such a dramatic treatment especially in the first half the audience couldn't help concentrating on every note. The result was that the musical setting of the text made sense.
The chorus work was magnificent throughout. Great credit must go to Professor Woodworth who prepared the Glee Club and Choral Society. It must be extraordinarily difficult to rehearse them for Koussevitzky one year and change style completely two years later for Munch. Their response to the conducting through all of Beethoven's surprises was excellent, and their top speed singing in the Gloria was nothing short of amazing.
The soloists were unfortunate. None of them could be heard adequately, but this was largely because they were placed behind rather than in front of the orchestra.
There were complaints yesterday that the speed of the allegros and the whispering of the pianissimos caused the words to be lost. For the most part, this is pedantry. The Missa Solmnis was a magnificent climax to Boston's musical season.
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