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Systematic Discussions of Bach’s Other Vocal Works

Mass in B minor BWV 232 - Part 7: Summary

 

 

Discussions in the Week of April 11, 2004

Aryeh Oron
wrote (April 17, 2004):
Mass in B minor BWV 232 - Summary

We are approaching the end of the Mass in B minor systematic discussions. For me the last couple of weeks have been very fruitful regarding the re-discovery of this work, through extensive and intensive listening to various recordings and through your messages.

I have to admit that I am somewhat disappointed that nobody has responded so far to my review of the early recordings of the MBM sent to the BCML couple of days ago. Am I the only one who has listened to these recordings? I am curious to hear other opinions.

Before we launch the discussions of the Lutheran Masses & Sanctus BWV 233-242, scheduled to begin next week, this is about the time to summing up the discussions of the MBM with some simple questions:

A. What is your favourite traditional recording of the MBM?
B. What is your favourite HIP recordings of the MBM?
C. What is your favourite movement from the MBM (regardless of recording)?
D. Suppose you have to assemble a CD with selected movements from various
recordings of the MBM, what would this CD include?

Awaiting your response,

Uri Golomb wrote (April 17, 2004):
In reply to some of Aryeh's questions:

>A. What is your favourite traditional recording of the MBM?
Assuming "traditional" means "on modern instruments", I would have to vote for Eugen Jochum. I love both his recordings of the Mass, though I slightly prefer the 1980 version -- mainly because the choir there is clearer and less wobbly. Jochum's vision of the work might seem "Romantic" to some listeners, but I don't always find that a dis-advantage: I love the way he shapes the First Kyrie towards a powerful yet inevitable-seeming climax. He is also superior to most of his modern-instrument competitors in achieving polyphonic clarity (especially in his later recording) without resorting to aggressive accentuation. He is more flexible in his dynamics and articulation than Richter, or even Klemperer. I also enjoy many parts in Scherchen's recording, and in Robert Shaw's second (1960) version, and in Rilling's 1999 version; and then I can point to specific movements I enjoyed in Corboz's second recording, Schreier's second recording, Rilling's first, Münchinger's...

>B. What is your favourite HIP recordings of the MBM?
Difficult. I always find myself recommending Herreweghe's Harmonia Mundi version and Richard Hickox's recording as "safe" recommendations -- recordings which I find insightful, and which are likely to be enjoyed by most listeners. I also love Harnoncourt's second (1986) version, and Thomas Hengelbrock's, but both of these are strongly individualised and gestural. I love them precisely for that reason, but I'm aware that some listeners might find them eccentric. I think Junghänel's Cantus Cölln version is likely to join my list of favourites, but I'll have to live with it longer to see if that happens. I have focused too much attention recently, perhaps, on the movements I liked less within it -- but on the whole it is a superb, often revelatory performance, and my favourite among those employing small-scale forces. (In fact, I wish Junghänel had gone all the way, and employed OVPP forces throughout!) There are so many other recordings I enjoyed -- including those by Leonhardt, Christophers, Brüggen, Jacbos, Gardiner, etc.... So I do feel a bit awkward being asked to name just one.

>C. What is your favourite movement from the MBM (regardless of recording)?
Another diffulct one. On some days, I might say "First Kyrie"; on others, the central tryptich of the Credo (Incarnatus-Crucifixus-Resurrexit), or the Confiteor (especially the "Adagio" section, introducing the words "et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum"). And on yet another day, I might choose the Domine deus-Qui tollis-Qui sedes sequence... Hard choices, and fortunately unnecessary ones.

>D. Suppose you have to assemble a CD with selected movements from various recordings of the MBM, what would this CD include?
I'll save that one -- and a response to Aryeh's review of early recordings -- for later...

Arjen van Gijsell wrote (April 17, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron]
My answers are:

A. Favourite MBM recording: Herreweghe
B Favourite early MBM recording: Karajan 1974 (because Gundula Janowitz, one of my favourate soprano's is on it).
C Favourite MBM piece: impossible question.
D Favourite MBM movement from different CD"s: I do not have that many recordings.

I have sung the MBM twice with the Laurenscantorij, the Netherlands and have 2 recordings of it. Anyone interested in hearing a certain movement? I have also sung it with The Nederlandsche Bachvereniging with Jos van Veldhoven, December 2003. That was special too. Some passages for choir were sung by the soloists. It was effective in giving a intimate rendition, but I would have liked singing it myself completely. The Credo I for instance was solo, and that was a pity!

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 17, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron]
A. What is your favourite traditional recording of the MBM?
Shaw [1960]

B. What is your favourite HIP recordings of the MBM?
Leonhardt [Of course I reserve the right to change my vote as time goes by. There are just too many fine candidates]

C. What is your favourite movement from the MBM (regardless of recording)?
Et resurrexit [As Uri rightly mentioned, this is a moveable feast, and on some other day I may shift to another movement].

A personal thought: The "sweet spot" of the entire Mass for me is the mid section of the Et Resurrexit - "Et ascendit in coelum, sedet dexteram Patris". Bach infuses this section with incredible, almost breath-taking grace, which creates an overwhelming sense of optimism in the listener [who does not need to be religious or even Christian]. The underlying feeling is one of a relaxed confidence in that fellow that Bach is sending up into Heaven, and a knowledge that as soon as he takes his place at the right of the Creator, everything is going to be just fine. Wonderful, wonderful music. [Unfortunately, reality has proven such optimism to have been misplaced, but that is OT and belongs elsewhere].

Now, a quiz to all the learned hands on the List: What is the irrefutable evidence that this movement is to be performed in precisely 4:02 minutes?

D. Suppose you have to assemble a CD with selected movements from various recordings of the MBM, what would this CD include?
This task is just too much to ask, so I'll propose just one selection:

Agnus Dei: Michael Chance with Brüggen [1989]

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron]
Before attempting to answer the questions by Aryeh, I would like to pose one myself: Has anyone except myself heard the King/King's Consort recording? If not, I would very much like to hear an opinion or two, if you'd bother to check out the amazon samples at: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000003013/
(There is also a review there, one that I wrote quite some years ago - childish, but fun [monosandal from Greece et c.])

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] Unlike most of the cantatas, I have at least one (well, three) recordings of this work, and since I like compact and orderly little things (such as my composition class assignments in baroque and classical style...), I'll give my 2 cents here-

>A. What is your favourite traditional recording of the MBM?
only have HIP-hopefully we all know why...

>B. What is your favourite HIP recording of the MBM?
Herreweghe and gang, who constantly demonstrates that he "knows" Bach's choral music on a deeper level than intellectually, and of course because of Andreas Scholl in gleaming perfection

the Parrot recording has some great moments too, but the unison/octave a cappella opening of the "Osanna" sounds a bit odd in OVPP

>C. What is your favourite movement from the MBM (regardless of recording)?
what is really odd is that I tend to not like slower arias, but among mtop picks for Bach at his finest is the "Agnus Dei", which shows his genius in expressivity (bashing a myth that some people-even some of my professionals-in-training classmates hold), as well as his genius in parodying-as the aria from the Ascension oratorio sounds absolutely perfect in its new guise-as does Scholl

>D. Suppose you have to assemble a CD with selected movements from various recordings of the MBM, what would this CD include?
gosh Aryeh-that's gotta be the most impossible question ever put up on this list!

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 18, 2004):
Arjen van Gijsell wrote: < I have sung the MBM twice with the Laurenscantorij, the Netherlands and have 2 recordings of it. Anyone interested in hearing a certain movement? >
Bring it on! (anything!) ... well, ok... How about the "Cum sancto spiritu"?

[By the way (OT), could you explain how you pronounce Arjen, and Laurenscantorij? (is <j>, perhaps, as in german?)]

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 18, 2004):
Ehud Shiloni wrote: < Now, a quiz to all the learned hands on the List: What is the irrefutable evidence that this movement [Et resurrexit] is to be performed in precisely 4:02 minutes? >
None, especially of any "irrefutable" kind. Why assume that it would ever be so constant? Every acoustic, every group of performing forces, every day are different. (Dare I suggest, every musical moment and every movement makes its own passage of time never to be repeated, and not a slave to a clock...at least in human perception?)

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (April 18, 2004):
Laurenscantorij

[To Jason Marmaras] I've uploaded a sample from the 2001 MBM recording of the Laurenscantorij (Cum sancto spiritu) to Aryeh. I hope he will post it. The recording quality is not the best, but all in all one can hear something of the greatness of Bach's music. I like our tempo better than the current material in the music example section,.

BTW, next week the Laurenscantorij will have a televized performance (Dutch television) at the occassion of a marriage in the royal family in our country. 1400 guests from all over Europe. We will sing among others the opening choirs of BWV 34 and BWV 137. BWV 34 has the original text (ach, lass auf dieses vereinigte Paar, etc).

As for pronunciation: if you know German, pronounce it like German. Nothing
to it.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Aryeh Oron] While Münchinger's mid-60's recording of the MBM is generally spoilt by a fuzzy choir, his Domine Deus, wih Ameling(S) and Krenn(T), is the finest of the six recordings I have.

It features a wonderfully well-recorded string orchestra with a most vivid bass pizzicato; a lovely flute with minimal vibrato that 'floats' effortlessly over the entire ensemble; and perfectly matched and entrancing singing from Ameling and Krenn.

Probably Richter's 1961 'Cum Sanctu Spiritu, Credo movements 1 and 2, and Confiteor would make it onto my 'ideal' MBM, as would Hickox's "Et incarnatus est', Rilling's (1999) Crucifixus (lovely acoustic) and Rilling's 1977 Sanctus.

Forced to choose only one HIP and one non-HIP, I would go with Hickox (former), and Rilling 1977 (for the latter category).

But all this requires further investigation...(and it seems not many of us have pre-1960 recordings of the Mass).

Arjen van Gijssel wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] Curious to know what you think of our rendition of Cum Sancto Spiritu. Aryeh had uploaded it today.


Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Bradley Lehman] Brad - my "quiz" was just a JOKE!!...

The "answer" is: The "irrefutable evidence" is simply the actual timing of the movement in the Gustav Leonhardt rendition. My ears tell me that his choises are just about right, and in my book this is sufficient "evidence".

I was hoping that one of the "encyclopedist" members will jump at my bait, but I was not planning that it will be the only one of that group who owns a good sense of humour!

Anyway, on a serious note, I do agree with all the comments you made in your reply.

John Pike wrote (April 18, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] I only have Gardiner and Karajan. I like Gardiner a lot. Karajan I find very disappointing by comparison. My favourite movement is impossible to pick, but Dona Nobis Pacem is one of them.

Mortimer Spankypoo wrote (April 19, 2004):
< Agnus Dei: Michael Chance with Brüggen [1989] >
How do you compare it with his performance with Gardiner? Agnus Dei has been my current favorite movement for some time now, and Chance's performance of it is by far my favorite. I'd love to hear the Bruggen recording of it, but that one's a bit hard to find.

How would you describe it?

Thanks!

Neil Halliday wrote (April 19, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] Looking past the somewhat 'foggy' or 'reverberant' acoustic on this recording, this is a very polished, spirited performance of the 'Cum Sanctu Spiritu', from Laurenscantorij Rotterdam.

The playing from the entire instrumental ensemble is accurate, and the various sections of the choir (SATB) are well balanced. Some of the semiquaver passages for full choir are 'fuzzy' at times, but the 'timbre ' of the full choir on the longer-held chords is very appealing. The lack of vibrato from the choir is appreciated; massed choral singing is definitely a situation in which no vibrato is desirable. I personally like the powerful timpani; and the trumpets have the required impact.

Conductor Schuurman has chosen a tempo that seems to best capture the exhiliration of this music; at around 4 minutes, it is about the same as the other recordings I have, apart from Hengelbrock, who definitely sounds rushed, at 3.34.

The atmosphere in the hall, during the performance, must have been quite electrifying.

(On re-listening, Rilling 1 overtakes Richter 1 as my preferred commercially available recording of this movement, for the greater clarity of all the parts. I think I was dazzled by Richter's trumpets!).

Marie Jensen wrote (April 19, 2004):
My personal "non-scholar" view

BMM is not made in heaven.

It is a service in music, a prayer. There has to be a possibility making the words ones own while listening.

That is the reason why Gardiner’s version does not work for me. It is beautiful and crystal clear. The singers sing like angels, but a Kyrie does not come from heaven but from the deepest despair, from this dirty sinful world, begging God for mercy.

And that is why I like Richter even if my version is a live one ( '69 Tokyo). The Kyrie is intense , the Gloria shouts out joy, the Credo stands firmly in all its contrasts, the conclusion too. I know it sounds banal but for me this great music makes itself a matter of mankind, a prayer from all of us . With Richter everybody sounds truely involved . They reach for heaven but they are also still here with their feet standing on the ground. Not only the big chorusses..

Take the Agnus Dei: The Richter alto (Marga Höffgen) makes it a true prayer. Vibrato or not! Every new year adds more to the disgusting pile of sins of the world. The aria reminds me of a mother standing a frosty night in the ruins of war crying out her misery . A countertenor cannot possibly fill out that role.

And two Osannas are not to much. I know the following has nothing to do with liturgy, but to me the two Osannas are the crowds standing outside Jerusalem waving their palm leaves, one crowd at one side of the road, and one at the other. In the middle rides Jesus pure, divine His Benedictus.

GIG ---God is Great!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 19, 2004):
Marie Jensen writes: < The aria reminds me of a mother standing a frosty night in the ruins of war crying out her misery . A countertenor cannot possibly fill out that role. >
That's fair enough, but it dertainly wasn't Bach's idea of the Agnus Dei (since he wouldn't have conceived the music for a female singer).

Sw Anandgyan wrote (April 19, 2004):
Aryeh Oron wrote:
< Mass in B minor BWV 232 - Summary
<snip>
Am I the only one who has listened to these recordings? I am curious to hear other opinions.
<snip>
have listened to Enescu, Karajan II, Richter I and Klempererhoping to honor your request and feeling like I've let you down because of worries about the ineptitude of my reviews. I find these monumental rendition somehow impressive and yet not always limpid.

some simple questions:
A. What is your favourite traditional recording of the MBM?
Richter III, Jochum II.

B. What is your favourite HIP recordings of the MBM?
The first time I heard Harnoncourt I, Rifkin and Hengelbrook I was stopped in my track for some sort of sonic revelation. Peculiar and yet quite efficient playing that contrasted with my experience with the earler modern recordings. I like gardiner for its élan, Harnoncourt II for its pungency and Herreweghe for its elegance.

C. What is your favourite movement from the MBM (regardless of recording)?
The Agnus Dei and the Qui tollis peccata mundi.

D. Suppose you have to assemble a CD with selected movements from various recordings of the MBM, what would this CD include?
Although I have a fairly decent selection to choose from, I'm way too green to assemble a best-of of that sort since I'm still acclimating myself with this masterpiece.

(By listening to different recordings of oeuvres such as the Magnificat, cantatas BWV 51 and BWV 82, I'm getting a better sense of my preferences. Since I tend to listen to the whole mass in one setting, it's a slower process for me to analyse properly my
personal inclination towards a rendition. )

It's much easier to say that the Cantus Cölln recording was not the expected satisfactory listening experience I thought it was going to be and I intend to not give up on it ;-)

I'll do the same 'mistake' and await anxiously the Suzuki one !

Neil Halliday wrote (April 19, 2004):
Marie's powerful sentiments:
"That is the reason why Gardiners version does not work for me. It is beautiful and crystal clear. The singers sing like angels, but a Kyrie does not come from heaven but from the deepest despair, from this dirty sinful world, begging God for mercy."
and
"The Richter alto (Marga Höffgen) makes it a true prayer. Vibrato or not! Every new year adds more to the disgusting pile of sins of the world. The aria reminds me of a mother standing a frosty night in the ruins of war crying out her misery . A countertenor cannot possibly fill out that role."
bear thinking about.

Regardless of what performance conventions were known to Bach, I'm convinced that, with his musocal stature, Bach would acknowledge the nobility, the splendour, and the passion that some 20th century readings (eg Richter) bring to his scores.

Thomas Braatz wrote (April 19, 2004):
A list member responded to Marie Jensen’s observation: >>The aria reminds me of a mother standing a frosty night in the ruins of war crying out her misery . A countertenor cannot possibly fill out that role.<<
with the following response:
>>That's fair enough, but it dertainly wasn't Bach's idea of the Agnus Dei (since he wouldn't have conceived the music for a female singer).<<
My response:

How would you know with such certainty for which type of voice Bach would have conceived this music (BMM)? Have you even read what I stated recently (based upon solid research):

It's at the bottom of the long page: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Topics/Women-3.htm

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 19, 2004):
[To Ehud Shiloni] I actually bought it - I thought that you had a "perverted" number-trick in mind (something having to do with the date of composition and the number of syllables sung by the tenor, the crotchets by the soprano and half the sum of quavers and semi-quavers by the alto =) ...) and wanted to make a joke out of it... Anyway (perhaps it takes a perverted mind to make perverted assumptions - oops!)

Johan van Veen wrote (April 19, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I think it is quite possible he would rather say: "Are you sure it is my music you are playing there?"

Santu De Silva wrote (April 19, 2004):
Aryeh Oron asks:
A. What is your favourite traditional recording of the MBM?
B. What is your favourite HIP recordings of the MBM?
I don't know how to classify these really well, but my two most favorite recordings are:

King's Consort and JE Gardiner

C. What is your favourite movement from the MBM (regardless of recording)?
I have several!

Et in unum dominum.
I think this is an absolute jewel of a movement. who knew two sopranos could sound this beautiful?

Dominus Dei
another glowing duet

Quoniam tu solus
I love the horn and bassoon accompaniment. I also like it taken at a moderate pace, i.e. not too fast, but with some momentum.

Qui sedes
this is the movement that made me fall in love with Kathleen Ferrier! that obbligato oboe! Oh dear; too good, too good.

Et resurrexit
Enough said. Makes one believe in trumpets again.

D. Suppose you have to assemble a CD with selected movements from various recordings of the MBM, what would this CD include?

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 19, 2004):
Neil wrote:
>> Marie's powerful sentiments:
"That is the reason why Gardiners version does not work for me. It is beautiful and crystal clear. The singers sing like angels, but a Kyrie does not come from heaven but from the deepest despair, from this dirty sinful world, begging God for mercy."
and
"The Richter alto (Marga Höffgen) makes it a true prayer. Vibrato or not! Every new year adds more to the disgusting pile of sins of the world. The aria reminds me of a mother standing a frosty night in the ruins of war crying out her misery . A countertenor cannot possibly fill out that role."
bear thinking about. <<
...and the first seems to me quite faithful to Bach's protestant tradition (I have a, correct I think, impression that protestants are more earthly, human, in their beliefs than, at least, catholics

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 19, 2004):
[To Arjen van Gijssel] I think I agree with Neil in most points; I would add that I was impressed by the 'naturality' of the colour of both choir (which I think isn't recorded as loud as it should - a pity) and orchestra - is it on 'period' instruments? The violins are amazingly wooden, and clear (perhaps the no-vibrato effect?)

I might prefer the tempo a weeee -bit faster (I'm used to a slightly rushed Cum sancto - for the addiction's sake =D ) but it's excellent as is. Again I must say that I was very happily surprized by the colour of coth orchestra and choir.

If I have another pick (which would be a bit unfair...) it would be Crucifixus(!)*

Regards,
Jason (the-one-who-asked-for-the-Cum-sancto)

* Nothing weird about the choice - just an "exclamation of excitment"(!) - there we go again! =)

Santu De Silva wrote (April 19, 2004):
Jason Marmaras asks: < Before attempting to answer the questions by Aryeh, I would like to pose one myself: Has anyone except myself heard the King/King's Consort recording? >
I own it, and my favorite movement is the duet, "Et in unum dominum" (I'm not exactly sure of the words). The two boy sopranos do a wonderful job.

There are those who can't stand boy sopranos, especially in soli. One must respect this --e pluribus gustibus and other buses. (I don't know any Latin.)

As for the rest of it; it's perfectly serviceable.

Jason Marmaras wrote (April 19, 2004):
[To Santu De Silva, regarding King’s recording of MBM]
Oh, yes - I adore the Christe(!)

ps: I am supposed to know some latin, but don't understand this one (lol);
could you explain, please?

John Pike wrote (April 19, 2004):
I forgot to say that I also own the Enescu recording on BBC Legends. It is a very fine recording and worthy of a mention.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 19, 2004):
Thomas Braatz wrote: < How would you know with such certainty for which type of voice Bach would have conceived this music (BMM)? Have you even read what I stated recently (based upon solid research): >
I have now, and it's pure speculation. And the arrogance of your phrase "have you even read what I stated" is quite extraordinary.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 19, 2004):
[To Jason Marmaras, regarding King’s recording of MBM]
I have the King version, and it is not at the top of my list. Maybe becausI am not very keen on boys voices [with certain exceprions]. The sound quality of the recording is very good, and the approach is definitely OK, but somehow I don't return to it often. That's my "subjective" comment.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 19, 2004):
Ehud Siloni wrote: << Agnus Dei: Michael Chance with Bruggen [1989] >>
Mortimer Spankypoo wrote: < How do you compare it with his performance with Gardiner? Agnus Dei has been my current favorite movement for some time now, and Chance's performance of it is by far my favorite. I'd love to hear the Bruggen recording of it, but that one's a bit hard to find.
How would you describe it? >
This is indeed very interesting. Chance was surely at the prime of his voice in those years, and the recordings are not very far apart - Gardiner's from 1985 and Bruggen's from 1989. Yet, the performances do differ, and somewhat in an unexpected way. Gardiner performs the Agnus Dei at a leasurely 5:46, while Bruggen takes just 5:06. You would expect this tragic and serious movement to benefit from a slower tempo, and indeed when Bruggen enters with the instrumental introduction it does feel rushed and in a hurry. But, when Chance enters, he takes over the movement completely. Perhaps it is the hurried tempo which somehow forced him to concentrate? I am no expert at all, and I cannot really tell, but the result is a gripping, haunted performance. One other feature - the instruments here take a distinct back-seat to the singer, who is projected forward forcefully. Chance sings in a straightforward manner, not making any strong gestures, but he hits on all the right "levers". With the Gardiner version you get an excellent performance, no doubt, but somehow the "voltage" is lower. When heard right after the Bruggen one, it almost seems to be plodding along in comparison. Also, Chance's voice looses prominenece to the continuo group on some long held notes, although that can result from a mixing decision. One last thought: Bruggen's version was recorded live, and we know that while on live recordings we hear lots of glitches and hick-ups, we sometime do get a true "miracle" performance. I think this is such a "miracle".

I think it will be advisable to continue to look for this recording.

Ehud Shiloni wrote (April 19, 2004):
Jason Marmaras wrote: < I actually bought it - I thought that you had a "perverted" number-trick in mind (something having to do with the date of composition and the number of syllables sung by the tenor, the crotchets by the soprano and half the sum of quavers and semi-quavers by the alto =) ...) and wanted to make a joke out of it... Anyway (perhaps it takes a perverted mind to make perverted assumptions - oops!) >
But at least you did'nt think that there REALLY exist some "irrefutable evidence", so you did'nt actually fall for it....:-)

With the best of "pervert" greetings!

Marie Jensen wrote (April 19, 2004):
Marie Jensen wrote: << The aria reminds me of a mother standing a frosty night in the ruins of war crying out her misery . A countertenor cannot possibly fill out that role. >>
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < That's fair enough, but it dertainly wasn't Bach's idea of the Agnus Dei (since he wouldn't have conceived the music for a female singer). >
I don't know what Bach thought , but I talk about what I experience listening to Agnus Dei. When I heard the aria for the first time many years ago with a female singer, it was my first impression. It was very strong and it has followed me ever since. When an artwork, painting/ piece of music/litterature whatever.. is shown / performed/ read, the imagination of the spectator/ listener/ reader, always begins to work. That is one of the exciting things about great art.

Countertenor / female alto? It is in a way the same, when countertenor Yoshi Mera appears as virgin Mary with the BCJ in the Christmas oratorio. He sings wonderfully, but I am always distracted. It is not a mothers voice. What is he going to do with the baby? :-)

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 20, 2004):
Johan van Veen wrote: < I think it is quite possible he would rather say: "Are you sure it is my music you are playing there?" >
I don't understand why people who prefer performances of Bach on modern instruments seek to validate a perfectly legitimate preference that needs no such justification by claiming that Bach would have enjoyed those performances. We're always being told that Bach would loved the modern piano; maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't, either way it's quite irrelevant. Why is it only Bach that would, so we're told, derive such satisfaction from hearing his music played on instruments that weren't invented when he was alive. Nobody advocates playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos on a synthesiser because "he would have loved it" or Mozart's Violin Concertos on the electric guitar....

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 20, 2004):
Marie Jensen wrote: < I don't know what Bach thought , but I talk about what I experience listening to Agnus Dei. When I heard the aria for the first time many years ago with a female singer, it was my first impression. It was very strong and it has followed me ever since. >
But if your first hearing of this aria was with a countertenor, or a boy alto, would you have had the same impression?

"When an artwork, painting/ piece of music/litterature whatever.. is shown / performed/ read, the imagination of the spectator/ listener/ reader, always begins to work. That is one of the exciting things about great art."
Absolutely. And that is as it should be.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 20, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson comments: "If Marie felt she was beng criticised then I apologise, for that was not my intention. Rather, it was merely to suggest that a personal, entirely legitimate understanding of this aria that stems from its being sung by a woman may not be a reason to reject its performance by a male singer."
It seems some of us are inclined to misread others' 'intentions' on this board (neverlone Bach's intentions)!

From Gabriel's original message:
"That's fair enough, but it certainly wasn't Bach's idea of the Agnus Dei (since he wouldn't have conceived the music for a female singer)"
I certainly understood that he believed a woman should not perform this aria! I now understand that Gabriel was reacting to what he perceived to be the opposite idea that this aria ought to be only given to a woman. (I would say artistic satisfaction ought to be the criterion for determining these matters, in which case performances by singers of either gender on merit should be acceptable; and Thomas's article certainly shows that Bach may indeed have wished he could have employed female singers.

In another post, he Gabriel writes:
"I don't understand why people who prefer performances of Bach on modern instruments seek to validate a perfectly legitimate preference that needs no such justification by claiming that Bach would have enjoyed those performances".
The reason for this is that there is an idea floating around that Bach can only 'correctly' be performed on period instruments; eg, I heard a radio announcer make this very suggestion a year or so ago.

[But the piano does represents a very interesting 'fault line' in this regard. Its ability to transfer the musical information (complex contrapuntal lines, simultaneous trills at different pitches, pitches of bass-clef chords etc) ,contained in the Bach's concertos for two, three and four keyboards, to a listener of a CD, seems to be so obviously superior to harpsichord (to me at least) that I wonder if this can be measured scientifically. I have the wonderful Casadesus family CD (pianos), and the Ristenpart (harpsichords) versions. The only place where the harpsichords are perhaps more interesting is in the unison passages, where the bright 'buzzy' timbre of the harpsichords adds interest to the austerity of the score; otherwise, the 'less sparkle, more substance' (audible pitch of all the notes) of the pianos is a definite advantage for the comprehension and hence enjoyment of these marvelously intricate scores.]

BTW, Töpper, with Richter (1961) also gives a heartfelt performance of the MBM's 'Agnus Dei'.

MNeugebauer wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Marie Jensen] Marie-very interesting points. Perhaps this is why (believe it or not) the Gardiner recording is the only one of his that I'm not particularly fond of (other than that he's my hero!).

If that's your image of the Agnus Dei, then so be it, but have you heard Scholl with Herreweghe?

and yes, God is great

Matthew Neugebauer wrote (April 20, 2004):
Gabriel Jackson wrote: < I don't understand why people who prefer performances of Bach on modern instruments seek to validate a perfectly legitimate preference that needs no such justification by claiming that Bach would have enjoyed those performances. We're always being told that Bach would loved the modern piano; maybe he would, maybe he wouldn't, either way it's quite irrelevant. Why is it only Bach that would, so we're told, derive such satisfaction from hearing his music played on instruments that weren't invented when he was alive. Nobody advocates playing Rachmaninov's Piano Concertos on a synthesiser because "he would have loved it" or Mozart's Violin Concertos on the electric guitar.... >
amen! If only people on both sides of the debate would get this!

Uri Golomb wrote (April 20, 2004):
Neil Halliday wrote: < BTW, Töpper, with Richter (1961) also gives a heartfelt performance of the MBM's 'Agnus Dei'. >
Actually, I prefer her reading three years earlier, with Jochum -- I find it more flexible and eloquent. (Ditto for the orchestral accompaniment: I prefer JOchum's more gradually-inflected approach to Richter's rigidity). In general, my favoured reading of this aria include both contraltos and counter-tenors.

Johan van Veen wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I don't understand what your comment has to do with what Gabriel wrote. Holding the view that the only (historically) 'correct' way to perform Bach is by using period instruments, doesn't imply that other performances are not legitimate.

Nobody has the right to deny musicians the right to perform Bach's music any way they want, but everyone is entitled to deny that some performances are historically 'correct'.

The problem is not that some performances aren't historically correct, but that the performers claim they are, even if that is patently wrong.

Neil Halliday wrote (April 20, 2004):
Johan van Veen writes: "The problem is not that some performances aren't historically correct, but that the performers claim they are, even if that is patently wrong."
Yes, that may be a problem, if it can be shown beyond doubt that such performers are indeed wrong in this regard. (If I was a performer, I would sidestep that issue by claiming 'artistic license' and asking to be judged by the results, not by a criterion of historical accuracy; remembering that the experts differ in their views).

But this radio announcer was trying to make the point that all performances of Bach other than on period instruments are illegitimate, which I am pleased to see is a view that you don't hold.

John Pike wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I do agree with your comments about use of the piano for Bach. I find it interesting listening to Bach played on the instruments he knew and used but I find the piano infinitely more satisfying ultimately, at least in the hands of people like Tureck, Schiff and Peraiha.

Marie Jensen wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson:]
you asked: <But if your first hearing of this aria was with a countertenor, or a boy alto, would you have had the same impression? >
I am not able to tell, but I am not particularly fond of boy altos, the few I have heard ( f. ex . Stefan Rampf, Harnoncourt, BWV 147)

To me The Agnus Dei is a peak in the BMM, if not the peak. It is associated with the Lords Supper. The words are so important. Its result should be the peace mentioned in the final movement. It tells me as well as the rest of the mass, that listening to it is not an escape from reality into beautiful music, but the contrary, music deepening reality. I need God and his forgiveness.

I know very well, that Bach’s music not has to be linked to Christianity to be enjoyed.

I am glad there are so many versions HIP, non HIP... I hope I did not start one of those fierce debates again about this subject, which caused havoc on this list a few years ago. It is certainly not my intention.

Marie Jensen wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Matthew Neugebauer] No, I have not heard Scholl with Herreweghe , but he is indeed a great singer. If I should choose a countertenor for the Agnus Dei, I would try him first. I heard him four years ago live with Koopman sing Koopman’s reconstruction of Sct. Marcus Passion (BWV 247). He sang with power and had a brilliant voice control. I was very impressed.

Philippe Bareille wrote (April 20, 2004):
Ehud Shiloni wrote: < I have the King version, and it is not at the top of my list. Maybe because I am not very keen on boys voices [with certain exceprions]. The sound quality of the recording is very good, and the approach is definitely OK, but somehow I don't return to it often. That's my "subjective" comment. >
I find myself wishing Robert King had used a smaller choir but all in all it is a very moving and satisfying performance full of deep insight and high in spirit. It should be noted that the alto lines are sung by boys and not countertenors/ women probably more in line with what Bach expected (I am not convinced by Tom Bratz outlandish theory!). Robert King is right to write that the rich sound of boy altos is "inimitable". The soloists (adults and children) are first rate bringing considerable degree of feeling to their rendition. The choir incisive attacks are impressive. How right was King to use the Tölzer knabenchor! The "Et incarnatus est" , the "Crucifux" and the beginning of the "Gloria" are particularly affecting. The boy alto in the "Agnus Dei" is perhaps not as good and controlled as Panito Iconomou (the outstanding boy alto in Parrot's performance) but reaches the heart of the music very effectively (what a beautiful voice!).

Otherwise I find personally difficult to answer Aryeh question. There are many accomplished performances on modern instruments (Jochum) as well as on period instruments (Leonhardt, Herreweghe 2, Parrot, Bruggen, etc..) so any outright recommendation of one version over another may be inappropriate. This sublime music transcends many stylistic approaches.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 20, 2004):
[To Marie Jensen] I agree with you, Marie. (And that area around communion is supposed to be the peak of mass!)

As for female and male singers in the Agnus Dei of BMM, I still can't think of any recorded performance that moves me more than Alfred Deller's from May 1954, that single movement filler for his album of cantatas BWV 54 and BWV 170. I've listened to it at least 50 times over 20 years, and it still gives me the cold chills in a good way. The graceful portamento from violinists Eduard Melkus and Marie Leonhardt has something to do with this, too, matching his singing so beautifully. Such a focused and introverted performance! And the way Harnoncourt and G Leonhardt on the bass line handle that middle section with such stillness....wow.

If you have the CD, be sure to pause or stop it quickly at the end of this Agnus Dei. They really should have given it another 30 seconds of silence to let things settle before the Handel excerpts burst in, with that mad scene from Orlando! That wasn't a problem on LP as the Agnus Dei was the end of the album.


Mass in B minor BWV 232: Details
Recordings:
Until 1950 | 1951-1960 | 1961-1970 | 1971-1980 | 1981-1990 | 1991-2000 | From 2001 | Individual Movements
General Discussions:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12
Systematic Discussions:
Part 1: Kyrie | Part 2: Gloria | Part 3: Credo | Part 4: Sanctus | Part 5: Agnus Dei | Part 6: Early Recordings | Part 7: Summary
Individual Recordings:
BWV 232 - Abbado | BWV 232 - Biller | BWV 232 - Brüggen | BWV 232 - Corboz | BWV 232 - Eby | BWV 232 - Ericson | BWV 232 - Fasolis | BWV 232 - Gardiner | BWV 232 - Giulini | BWV 232 - Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - Hengelbrock | BWV 232 - Herreweghe | BWV 232 - Jacobs | BWV 232 - Jochum | BWV 232 - Junghänel & Cantus Cölln | BWV 232 - Karajan | BWV 232 – King | BWV 232 - Klemperer | BWV 232 - Kuijken | BWV 232 - Leonhardt | BWV 232 - Ozawa | BWV 232 - Pearlman | BWV 232 - Richter | BWV 232 - Rifkin | BWV 232 – Rilling | BWV 232 - Scherchen | BWV 232 – Schreier | BWV 232 - Shaw | BWV 232 - Solti | BWV 232 - Suzuki | BWV 232 - J. Thomas & ABS
Articles:
Mass in B Minor, BWV 232 (by Teri Noel Towe) | Bach’s B minor Mass on Period Instruments (by Donald Satz) | Like Father, Like Son [By Boyd Pehrson]

Recordings & Discussions of Other Vocal Works: Main Page | Motets BWV 225-231 | Mass in B minor BWV 232 | Missae Breves & Sanctus BWV 233-242 | Magnificat BWV 243 | Matthäus-Passion BWV 244 | Johannes-Passion BWV 245 | Lukas-Passion BWV 246 | Markus-Passion BWV 247 | Weihnachts-Oratorium BWV 248 | Oster-Oratorium BWV 249 | Chorales BWV 250-438 | Geistliche Lieder BWV 439-507 | AMN BWV 508-523 | Quodlibet BWV 524 | Aria BWV 1127

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Last update: ýApril 21, 2004 ý00:37:24