Karajan's early recording of many standard repertory items have always impressed me as more interesting than his later re-makes - after, perhaps, being Karajan went to his head. So it is with this 1952/3 recording of the B Minor. Rhythms are well sprung and while slow by current standards, the tempos aren't as lugubrious as Karajan's DG stereo effort of over a decade later. The cadential retards sound mannered today as does the prolonged final chord in the "Dona nobis pacem."
Choruses were recorded in Vienna with the Vienna Singverein and Orchestra. Solos were recorded in EMI's Abbey Road studios using Legge's Philharmonia and a singers including a relatively young Schwarzkopf and a very young Gedda. Schwarzkopf and Gedda are the stand-outs in the quartet, both in very fresh voice. Hoffgen is a very good alto, but suffers in comparison to the Kathleen Ferrier of the "bonus" tracks included in the issue. The only criticism of Rehfuss is that the lowest notes just aren't in his voice.
The Vienna orchestra is Ok, but comes off second best to Legge's hand picked Philharmonia forces. The Singverein sopranos won't win any prizes for tonal beauty or pinpoint accuracy, but the choral singing is by and large pretty good. The Vienna sessions aren't exactly helped by the harsh and dry sound of the Musikvereinsaal in comparison to the more colorful sonic picture achieved in the London studio. Interestingly, the bonus experimental recordings of Karajan's rehearsals for a 1950 broadcast of the Mass in some ways sound more mellifluous than the later sessions. Speaking of those rehearal excerpts, the singing of Kathleen Ferrier is extraordinary in tonal beauty and intensity and makes me appreciate anew just what a great artist the world lost in her early death.