This is quite simply the most melifluous, most enjoyable account
of the Mass in B minor I've ever heard. The widely acclaimed Gardiner
reading on Archiv Produktion (DG 415 514-2) has never caught my
full attention, never won my love as it were. Somehow, it was proficient,
but devoid of, shall we say, "musical spirituality". Here in Herreweghe's
turn-of-the-millenium reading, things spring to life, never momentum
wasted, nor a tone colour unpainted. But, the meaning of the music
(if any) or the words of the liturgy aside, what I enjoyed most
is that Herreweghe makes it all so very musick, sustaining
most satisfyingly the pure melodious inspiration of the music, inspiring
both admiration for its ingenious architecture, as well as its wondrous
aural jewellery. What satisfying ways Herreweghe's team has with
the shapes of phrases, beginning, middle or end! - all this produces
a performance of this human masterpiece of great unity.
In the opening Kyrie, the majestic solemnity of the combined
choir and orchestra is amply showcased. Herreweghe sculpts the musical
shapes with a kind of almost distant sensuality - from the humming,
gently throbbing bass lines up to the undulating choral lines. I
am full of admiration for his success at bringing out every section/line
clearly - primary choral lines surface from the combined choral
soundscape, singing. I am starstruck with awe as the performers
sustain the music with unfaltering belief and pacing.
the soloists are magnificent. Early on we're given a gorgeous treat
in the duet for the sopranos (Christe eleison) - rounded,
light yet intensified, the voices sail above the classic Bach stringwork
most deliciously. Véronique Gens, the brilliant Fiordiligi in Harmonia
Mundi's superb Così fan tutte CD/CDROM
thingey, impresses with her firmly powered voice backed by a
very pleasant tone, which I might describe as religiously beautiful
in an attractive feminine way (try the Laudamus te).
Scholl appears on three tracks, most impressively in the mystical
tranquility of the Agnus Dei. His intensely "emotionless",
passionately angelic voice, adds tremendously to the mysterious
tone of the music, floating with expectancy, lethargy (of the beautiful
sort) and a sort of faintly anguished peace. Scholl's incredible
control of his voice allows him great nuances of dynamic, tone and
vibrato - all matched by the equally responsive orchestra. And don't
miss the absolutely divine performance of the Et in unum dominum,
where he duets with Zomer - the way their voices match is purity
Collegium Vocale orchestra is, needless to say by now, a far- and
well- established group. What superbly assertive strings, chugging
enthusiastically in the Gloria (very satisfying and simply
magnificent), the Credo, the Et resurrexit and Ossana
choruses, with the rounded bright trumpets forging ahead with their
Brandenburgian parts above the choir. Elsewhere, the horn matches
the dark tones of its companion bassoons in the Quoniam.
for the instrumental soloists, I need only cite the people highlighted
in the Gloria, say the solo violin in Laudamus te,
or the pastoral sweetness of the flute, almost heady with innocence.
The latter is demonstrated in the set's beautiful rendition of the
Domine Deus [I:8] - and afterward the Benedictus [II:12];
add to this the regal tones of duettists Johannette Zomer and the
princely companionship of the indefatigable Christoph Prégardien
(surely by now one of the Bach Tenors) - ah pure heaven!
fact, come to think of it, what I find very difficult to describe
in this performance is the apparent contradiction of sensations
I perceive. The singing is both lightly innocent, yet impassioned;
the celebration is loud yet religious, devout yet festive. The emotions
are solemn yet sometimes almost sensual in feeling and/or fervour;
the architecture Baroque, the soul Romantic. It is these combined
qualities which impress me so much in Herreweghe's vision - for
the simple reason that in Bach, we find the perfect balance of the
different (so-called "opposite") human qualities - form and feeling,
mind and soul.
It is not surprising to know thus that the Mass in B minor, never
heard in performance by the composer, did not appear to be actually
written for liturgical use, as were Bach's sacred cantatas. The
Mass began life as the pair consisting of the Kyrie and Gloria
(together comprising a Missa), written in 1733. Bach was
required as Thomaskantor to feature a mass on important church occasions,
but prior to 1733 he had always employed masses not of his own pen.
when he produced this Missa, it was to be a richly scored
work with a five-part choir, the two sections which together exceeded
50 minutes. The spectacular result is most often cited as catering
to the work's role as an "audition piece" for the royal post of
Hofkapellmeister at the court chapel of the Elector of Saxony,
Friedrich August II (1696-1763).
that done (he was appointed in 1736), Bach the completist could
not have "finished" with the Kyrie and Gloria. Nope,
he added to this Missa the Credo, Osanna, Benedictus,
Agnus Dei and Dona nobis pacem, and he was still working
on it up till around 1748. The interesting thing that well-known
Bach scholar Christoph Wolff says is that the composer apparently
completed this Mass for no "discernible practical purpose" (which
is a fine reason for an artist creating art, if you ask me).
explains that the Mass could not be performed in a Protestant church,
since Luther had banned the sections of the ritual relating to the
sacrifice, retaining only the Sanctus. On the other hand,
the Mass was also unusuable on the Catholic side, because of textual
and formal differences. The size of the forces required for the
work was also unheard of.
is not surprising at all to suggest that Bach probably wrote (or
rather completed/refined) the Mass in B minor as an example of compositional
art, the summation of his thoughts on the genre - one only needs
to remember The Art of Fugue, or the Clavier-Übung.
half the Mass includes parodies or adaptations from earlier compositions;
as such, as the (somewhat, um, riddlesome) Harmonia Mundi sleeve
notes describe, the Mass is the "fruit of a rational and perfectly
balanced 'montage' that... asserts itself as an original and unique
creation." (Alberto Basso, trans. Derek Yeld). More significantly,
Wolff notes that the earlier material was carefully selected, refined
and fused together as a whole (of the Mass). In addition, in some
cases, Wolff asserts that "the existing music possessed a substance
and a potential which had not yet been fully exploited."
Knowing Bach's penchant for perfection, it was only the most natural
thing for him to do to take up the challenge of creating a "montage"
using the best of his experience (the tons of cantatas behind him),
new thoughts, new music and old music, in the form of the
oldest and most established form among all sacred vocal genres.
As far as all this is concerned, Herreweghe's reading is one of
the finest I've ever encountered - the Missa section blazes gloriously,
and the rest and the whole is superbly unified, one section moving
on to the next with uncommon naturalness.
unity is one important quality I would award the Collegium Vocale
choir with too - singing not only together within, but with the
orchestra. The choir responds to Herreweghe's direction with flow
and grace, as well as power and conviction. Such a bright sound
they create for the celebratory choruses, and such fluidity in which
they shift dynamic and tempo - I need only cite their absolutely
enjoyable readings of the Sanctus [II:10] and the Osannas
way the musicians rise into the opening of the final Dona nobis
pacem, from the depths of the Agnus Dei's dissipation,
is subtle and highly effective - full of expectancy, aspiring towards
the triumph of conclusion; the cathedral chorale seems to flow straight
out of the Renaissance, and evolves fugally into the High Baroque
splendour of trumpets, drums and celebratory peace. A Great Mass
this is, from the Great Bach. Nothing can be simpler.
CHRISTOPH. Kantorenmusik, Kapellmeisterstil und gelehrte Kunst:
Anmerkungen zu Geschichte und Aufführungspraxis von Bachs h-moll-Messe.
("The Kantor, the Kapellmeister and the Musical Scholar:
Remarks on the History and Performance of Bach's Mass in B minor".
Trans. Mary Whittall. CD Sleeve notes from DG Archiv Produktion
415 514-2. Germany, 1985.
ALBERTO. The "Great Mass" in B minor. Trans. Derek Yeld.
CD Sleeve notes from Harmonia Mundi HMX 2901614.15. 1999.
yes, CHIA HAN-LEON has already
bought tickets for the Alanis concert.
If you wish to
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1.10.1999 © Chia Han-Leon
From: Richard Victor James Nahabedian (firstname.lastname@example.org / Monday, August 28, 2000 at 07:33:37)
I can recommend another triumph for Philippe Herrewege............his recording of the colosoll masterwork of this genius, the " St. Matthew Passion " . It will lift you up to heaven !
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