from CRQ 513 OTTO KLEMPERER CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN'S MISSA SOLEMNIS THE VOX RECORDING OF MARCH 1951
released May 2, 2022
Otto Klemperer and Vox Records
Shortly after the end of the Second World War Otto Klemperer was approached in Los Angeles by the Hungarian-born George Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (no relation of the composer) to record for his nascent record label Vox Records. Klemperer agreed and a contract was signed by which Klemperer was to make four records a year for Vox, not to record for any other company without prior agreement, and with the contract to be automatically renewed unless terminated by either party.
Klemperer’s first records for Vox were made shortly afterwards in Paris during July 1946 with the repertoire consisting of music by Bach and Mozart. At this time the dominant medium was still the 78-rpm disc. Although the actual recorded sound of these recordings was no more than average, and sales were limited, the musical standard of the recordings was high. Klemperer retuned to Paris in 1950 to record for Vox symphonies by Mozart and Schubert.
Following the introduction of the long-playing record in the USA in 1948, LPs by 1950 were starting to replace the 78 disc as the medium of choice for classical music. Sales of the new format began to grow significantly. Able to see the future direction of the recording industry, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy wrote to Klemperer at the beginning of 1951 urging him to record in the new medium, pointing out that these records would help to rebuild Klemperer’s reputation in the USA, Vox’s then principal market, as well as providing useful additional income.
Klemperer agreed to record four further albums for Vox in Vienna in the Spring of 1951. The repertoire for these sessions, well suited to the LP medium, consisted of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’, Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony, Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, all major works and close to Klemperer’s heart. As Mendelssohn-Bartholdy correctly predicted, over time these recordings definitely helped to spread the conductor’s reputation internationally.
In May of 1951 Klemperer returned to Vienna to record Mahler’s Second Symphony, ‘Resurrection’, a key work in his life, also persuading Mendelssohn-Bartholdy to pay for a public performance of the same work in Vienna’s principal concert hall, the Musikverein. The local press noted wryly that it was a small American record company presenting a key work by a major figure in Vienna’s past musical life, rather than any Austrian institution.
At this time Klemperer increased his recorded output for Vox in Vienna considerably, accompanying the pianist Guiomar Novaes in several concerto recordings and leading symphonies by Beethoven and Mendelssohn. It was the recording of Mendelsohn’s Third Symphony, the Scottish, that led to Klemperer’s break with Vox. Klemperer did not record the complete work during June of 1951, leaving the final two movements unrecorded, as he had to depart for concerts in Greece. Mendelssoh-Bartholdy hired Herbert Haefner, a fine Viennese conductor who died shortly afterwards, to complete the recording, and then issued the complete symphony under Klemperer’s name in the USA during the autumn of 1951. On learning of this Klemperer was outraged and terminated his contract with Vox. He did not return to studio recording until November 1954 when he commenced his long-term relationship with EMI, having signed a contract with that company in May 1952.
Klemperer’s recordings for Vox of March 1951 have well stood the test of time. They remain key elements in his commercial discography. His interpretation of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in particular possesses the grandeur of vision and fire in performance that characterised his most memorable performances.