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Bach: Mass in B Minor SACD


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Bach: Mass in B Minor + Handel: The Messiah (Dublin Version, 1942)
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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
A Mass of Exultation June 21 2010
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Do you believe in miracles? I don't. I'm one of those skeptical materialists, a complacent disbeliever from an early age. But my ears belie me when it comes to Bach. My ears proclaim that Bach's Mass in B minor is nothing less than miraculous. My ears shout to my doubting brain, "How could Bach be wrong?"

The Mass in B minor celebrates a miracle, the central Christian miracle myth of Resurrection. One has to presume, on the basis of all evidence, that Johann Sebastian Bach was profoundly sincere in his belief in his Lutheran religious creed. Lutherans do accept the Nicene Creed, by the way, and memorize it in cathechism. I did. Oddly enough, I knew the Credo in the 'vernacular' long before I learned it in Latin for musical purposes. The 'Credo' that forms the longest portion of almost every musical mass setting is the Nicene Creed in Latin. It has been 'troublesome' for composers because of its wordiness, and many polyphonic masses of the centuries before Bach struggled to stay awake during the recitation of the Credo. Bach had no such problem; the "Symbolum Nicenum" of the B minor Mass is magnificently dramatic.

So why, one asks, did the staunch Lutheran Bach write a massive Mass using the Latin liturgy? Historically, the answer is that the Latin Mass had not been completely ostracized from Lutheran worship in Bach's time. A deeper answer, I think, is that Bach meant to proclaim his confidence both in the Christian miracle and in the miraculous power of music to exalt humanity. The essence of the Mass in B minor is confidence, and the exultation one feels with such confidence. There are moments of passionate sorrow in the B minor Credo, but there are no moments of doubt. No Angst. This Mass in B minor must be heard as an expression of joy and certitude. The Kyrie is about Awe. The Gloria is really about glory, an exaltation of God's majesty, a paean of the believer's love responding to God's Love. The Credo is above all a statement of trust, confident trust, unshadowed total exulting belief in the Miracle. The Sanctus, Hosanna, and Agnus Dei continue the exultation in a mood of serenity and gratitude.

Above all, it's the joyous proclamation of Belief that needs to be delivered in a performance of the Mass in B minor, and it's at this level of interpretation that the Dunedin Consort's performance excels any other that I've ever heard. There's no murk in this performance. No lugubrious questioning of one's hopes. The Hosanna is a riotous celebration of the Miracle. It doesn't matter in the least whether I or any other listener shares Bach's religious impulse. The music proclaims a triumph of Life that even an atheist can exult in.

Now to the nitty-gritty of performance practice. This is not precisely a one-on-a-part performance; the five soloists sing the 'choral' portions of the score along with five 'ripienist' voices. I have no interest in defending that practice in terms of historical authenticity or of establishing Bach's intentions. What I hear is what counts. This is a recording! Large choruses seldom sound even like human voices on a recording. The five/ten voices of the Dunedin Consort sound over my speakers just as robust as any huge chorus, and they sound human. Their individual human timbres can be separated by the listener's ears, and thus their individual musical 'rhetoric' can be distinguished and followed. Each voice is expressive on its own. It's the 'transparency' of the Dunedin performance that makes it musically exciting. The same logic, of being able to hear all the inner instrumental parts and voices forming an ensemble, applies to the orchestra: essentially one-on-a-part, just four violins, one viola, one cello, one violone. But the wind section is brilliant, "as Bach intended", with two flutes, three oboes, two bassooons, a horn, three trumpets, timpani and organ. Bach's wind instruments were decidedly NOT 'precursors' of modern winds. They were highly evolved, well built tools of music, played with the virtuosity of well-developed instrumental techniques. The most obvious advantages of 'original' instruments will be heard from the valveless baroque trumpets, in their 'clarino' passages, and from the crisp wooden mallets of the baroque timpani.

The five soloists are sopranos Susan Hamilton and Cecilia Osmund, alto Margot Oitzinger, tenor Thomas Hobbs, and bass Matthew Brook. They are awesome together and separately. What more can I say?

Conductor John Butt must get a major share of the credit for this superb performance, both for assembling the forces and for imposing his celebratory interpretation on those forces with such well rehearsed and polished unanimity. Brisk, forthright tempi are the most immediate means of Butt's interpretation, but dynamics and articulation are also critical. The key, to my ears, is that every gesture of musical interpretation seems 'intentional'. Butt knew how he wanted each passage to sound, and his art as a conductor was to elicit exactly that sound from his musicians. In this control of his forces, Butt reminds me of the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler... not that the results sound anything alike, but that the integrity of interpretation is comparable.

Do I dare say that this is the best recorded performance of Bach's B minor Mass ever released? Sure, why not. Now your only recourse, if you want to dispute that assertion, will be to buy it and hear it. I'm fairly confident that you'll enjoy it miraculously. And by the way, I don't get a commission from Linn Records or the Scottish Arts Council.
28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Surprisingly (to me) good May 27 2010
By Teemacs - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
First of all, confession time. I heartily dislike Joshua Rifkin's approach to the Bach cantatas and his subsequent massacre of some of the most marvellous music ever written. I don't care how much scholarly justification he has, I bought one cantata CD, listened to it once and gave it away. In my view, Bach needs a proper chorus to give it a bit of oomph in the big numbers. To me, they seem to cry out for it. You do NOT get majesty with four soloists.

Anyway, who cares how it was actually played back in Bach's day? This is music for the ages, and should not be stuck in a stylistic straitjacket. The point of the exercise is surely to give voice to the artistic and aesthetic concepts of which the music is capable, not to regard it as a museum piece occasionally to be respectfully dusted off and given a scholarly airing. To me, a decent chorus (such as Gardiner's Monteverdis) lets the thing sing and dance and jump and shout and encourages you to make a complete fool of yourself by waving your hands in the air and bellowing along in your own key.

So, when I saw the dreaded Rifkin name on this set, my heart sank. I have just made a BIG mistake, I thought. Even noting that this set employs some extra ripieno singers didn't improve my humour.

So, I sat down to listen, without too much expectation - and I confess I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't as awful as I expected. In fact, it was really quite good. Some "choral" bits were simply too anaemic - the opening "Kyrie" and stunning "Hosanna" with its dazzling soaring trumpets need a decent chorus - but others came over surprisingly well and full-blooded. And I must confess that the smaller number of singers does let you hear more clearly Bach's wonderful contrapuntal lines.

All of the singers are excellent, except for the alto who is passable (to my ears adequate in the Agnus Dei, but no more than that). The instrumentalists are outstanding, period. I don't know that I've ever heard a better group of instrumentalists in any B Minor. Occasionally the timpani are too intrusive, but that's the only very slight quibble on that score. The recording is excellent.

If I could, I'd give this set four-and-a-half stars. It hasn't made me feel any better about Rifkin's approach, but never have I heard Rifkin's argument better made (far better than HE ever made it). I will always still reach preferentially for Gardiner or Suzuki (or even the majestic old Klemperer, which taught me to love the work), but there are individual solo movements here that are jewel-like in their excellence, and I will go back to those with pleasure.

And of course folk who like the Rifkin approach will absolutely love this.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This is special Oct. 19 2013
By Kay Lindstrom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The Dunedin Consort & Players are a small ensemble that allows the listener to hear all the interior parts. This is in marked contrast to the muddy performance of much larger, more traditional, choirs.

The most spiritual, and spirited, performance I have ever heard. I have repeatedly listened to it, hear more every time.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Scaled-down, a Bit Rough Perhaps, but Heartfelt March 31 2014
By J. R. Trtek - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I'm hardly knowledgeable enough to discuss issues involving performance practice, voices and parts. This recording has been criticized for sacrificing grandeur and praised for revealing intimacy, and I suppose both assertions are true. Quite often, one is confronted with two recordings or performance styles at odds with one another. Sometimes one approach seems clearer wrong or inferior, but often it's simply different. That's my feeling with respect to this performance's approach to the Bach B minor Mass. It does at times lack an imposing majesty, but it substitutes a different kind of majesty in its place. Some days, I'll take the grand edifice as embodied in other recordings of this work. Other times, this earnest, perhaps more down-to-earth approach is what I'm going to seek. You might be of one mind about the issue. I'm not. I like both this recording and those that are its opposite. Perhaps it's the work itself, which is capable of being multi-faceted. Addendum: After several more listenings, I am liking this even more and am upgrading my rating of the release to five stars from four. It now joins Herreweghe's rendition on PHi and Gardiner's vintage account as among my favorites.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
As it must have been when first performed. March 31 2013
By AO Whip - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
There are no massive choral resources here at all, just the soloists singing together for the choruses. For the first time, you can actually hear what our greatest genius had in mind and probably what he actually may have heard. This is a sublime performance of a work that helped Bach spring loose from time.

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