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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

Mass in B minor BWV 232

General Discussions - Part 12

Continue from Part 11

'Alla breve' in the BMM; some observations

Neil Halliday wrote (April 9, 2004):
There are six movements in the BMM with a time signature of cut C.

1. 2nd Kyrie.
2. Gratias.
3. Credo
4. Patrem omnipotentem
5. Confiteor
6. Dona nobis.

In the CD-ROM score, only two movements are marked 'Alla breve', namely, the second Kyrie, and the Gratias. Note that the Dona nobis is not so designated. (Interestingly, there is also a slight variation in the orchestration between these two movements).

Numbers 4 and 5 (above) have two minims to a bar; the rest have two semibreves to a bar.

Footnote: My Eulenburg edition shows only one movement marked 'Alla breve', namely, the 2nd Kyrie: this variation from score to score is a little disconcerting, as I noted recently with discrepencies over time signatures for the cantata 'French overture 'movements. Interesting fact: the 2nd Kyrie is the only movement of the BMM that does not have any quavers at all.

Regarding the speed of the Dona nobis, who wants to quiz Hengelbrock or Hickox over whether they know what they are doing? (Conversely, I'm happy to let Junghaenel make his choices; whether I choose to listen to him or not should be of no concern to anyone).

Charles Francis wrote (April 9, 2004):
[To Neil Halliday] I can't comment on the Junghaenel recording as I haven't heard it yet, but I can comment on the man himself. In my opionion, he produces great studio recordings, but in a church environment reverberation renders his fast-paced music unitelligable (I once heard him live conducting in the abbey of Melk).

On the issue of 'alla breve', I have the Peter's keyboard/vocal reduction which is based on the latest research by Christoph Wolff. It indicates both the 2nd Kyrie and the "Gratias" as 'alla breve'; the same is true in the NBA score. Do we deduce from this that the 'Dona nobis pacem' should be performed at half the tempo of the "Gratias agimus tibi"? This would certainly facilitate the expected peace!

Tonight, I compared various recordings of the "Gratias". The worst performances, in my opinion, were Karajan and Leonhardt, with Münchinger and Richter (1962) only a little better. Parrott turned in a non-descript offering of little merit, with Brembeck somewhat preferred. Richter's 1985 performance is much slower than in 1962, and much better. Gardiner is attractive, as is Rifkin; although these are certainly both lightweights. Finally, I listened to Rilling and confirmed his is the slowest and, moreover, in another league from the others.

I am ever mindful of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of "pearls" and "swine", but notwithstanding, I've uploaded the Rilling 'Dona nobis pacem' for analysis and comment: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/

Neil Halliday wrote (April 9, 2004):
Charles wrote: (of the Gratias):
"Richter's 1985 performance is much slower than in 1962, and much better".
That surprises me. Richter's 1962 Gratias, at 3.28, is amongst the slower group for the recordings I have. Perhaps you are judging it on parameters other than speed? Anyway, I'm always 'bowled over' by it.

Here is a comparison of the speeds of various Gratias and Dona nobis recordings (Gratias first, Dona nobis 2nd)

Richter 1962: 3.28. 3.25
Rilling 1977: 3.03, 3.45
Hengelbrock 1997: 3.11, 3.30
Rilling 1999: 2.48, 3.08

(Note: all the conductors take the Gratias faster than the Dona nobis, except Richter who performs them at virtually the same speed).

Of these, Rilling's 1999 Gratias is the only one I sometimes choose to pass over. There are a few other movements on this recording I omit for this reason (as with Hengelbrock). OTOH, the Dona nobis on this CD is splendid; and this is a very well engineered CD.

Re Charles' choice for best Dona nobis, ie, Rilling's 1977 (the slowest):

This recording reveals perhaps the most profound expression of peace, at the start (from the above recordings); and I like the way it builds up to a tremendous climax. Indeed, matters of speed or tempo seem irrelevent in the face of such grandeur. (However, I find I cannot choose a 'best' recording, from this fine group).

But I would like to repeat, this score of itself increases in power as it progresses, unless you are going to have Bach's three trumpets and punctuating timpani completely 'wimping out' at the end.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< I can't comment on the Junghaenel recording as I haven't heard it yet, but I can comment on the man himself. In my opionion, he produces great studio recordings, but in a church environment reverberation renders his fast-paced music unitelligable (I once heard him live conducting in the abbey of Melk). >
How is that about the man himself, exactly?

And, why would anything about the man (if such were presented) be relevant? It would just be an ad hominem argument to make him seem incompetent, wouldn't it? Just checking.

< On the issue of 'alla breve', I have the Peter's keyboard/vocal reduction which is based on the latest research by Christoph Wolff. It indicates both the 2nd Kyrie and the "Gratias" as 'alla breve'; the same is true in the NBA score. Do we deduce from this that the 'Dona nobis pacem' should be performed at half the tempo of the "Gratias agimus tibi"? This would certainly facilitate the expected peace! >
Or, do we deduce that Bach knew intelligent musicians don't need to be told the same instructions twice: that we'd recognize the same notes and play them similarly the second time?

< Tonight, I compared various recordings of the "Gratias". The worst performances, in my opinion, were Karajan and Leonhardt, with Münchinger and Richter (1962) only a little better. Parrott turned in a non-descript offering of little merit, with Brembeck somewhat preferred. Richter's 1985 performance is much slower than in 1962, and much better. Gardiner is attractive, as is Rifkin; although these are certainly both lightweights. Finally, I listened to Rilling and confirmed his is the slowest and, moreover, in another league from the others. >
Care to elaborate the aesthetic standards that inform your preferences? Or is it just a nebulous matter where whatever seems best is automatically best?

< I am ever mindful of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of "pearls" and "swine", but notwithstanding, I've uploaded the Rilling 'Dona nobis pacem' for analysis and comment: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/ >
Thanks. As another old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So it is also with hearing recordings vs reading about them.

On the other hand, isn't it clear that Jesus referred to casting one's own pearls before the swine, and not the pearls of someone else's copyrighted work?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 9, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< I can't comment on the Junghaenel recording as I haven't heard it yet, but I can comment on the man himself. In my opionion, he produces great studio recordings, but in a church environment reverberation renders his fast-paced music unitelligable (I once heard him live conducting in the abbey of Melk). >
This is a bit of a generalisation - not all church acoustics are the same!

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 9, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< I am ever mindful of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of "pearls" and "swine", but notwithstanding, I've uploaded the Rilling 'Dona nobis pacem' for analysis and comment: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/ >
For me this is simply far too slow. It is a very good example of over-monumentalising this movement. The equation of slowness with profundity is something that has always puzzled me.

Bradley Lehman wrote (April 9, 2):
Charles Francis wrote:
< I am ever mindful of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of "pearls" and "swine", but notwithstanding, I've uploaded the Rilling 'Dona nobis pacem' for analysis and comment: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/
For me this is simply far too slow. It is a very good example of over-monumentalising this movement. The equation of slowness with profundity is something that has always puzzled me. >
For what it's worth, Scherchen's 1959 is even slower (3'56") but has more linear flow to it, with more dynamic shaping of the individual lines. More grandeur and focus, one might say, in contrast with Rilling's aloofness. (And why does Rilling's first trumpeter tremble so, in his tone?) In that effect of devotional awe, is Rilling trying to get across some theological message that he and his people are not worthy? That's just a guess, from listening to it.

Perhaps collectors who favor this extremely expansive approach to tempo should consider a purchase of that Scherchen set. I have the brown-packaged issue shown at: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Scherchen.htm

=====

For a much different take on the text "Dona nobis pacem", check out the Bernstein Mass. It turns into rock/blues choruses and a disorganized stage, with the Celebrant shouting over them and trying to subdue it all to finish his appointed task. Schwartz' libretto has several soloists vehemently demanding peace, and challenging God to get with the program and obey their demands and threats. The Celebrant dashes the chalice to the floor, "PA-CEM!" and everybody shuts up. Then he delivers an intense monologue that recapitulates much of the mass to that point, and he questions his own faith. A very powerful piece of drama, this, emphasizing the human half of the deal. Sort of a companion piece to "Godspell".

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 9, 2004):
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< (And why does Rilling's first trumpeter tremble so, in his tone?) In that effect of devotional awe, is Rilling trying to get across some theological message that he and his people are not worthy? >
That struck me as terribly sentimental. Also a sense that the singers weren't completely comfortable with the tempo.

Charles Francis wrote (April 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
<< I can't comment on the Junghaenel recording as I haven't heard it yet, but I can comment on the man himself. In my opionion, he produces great studio recordings, but in a church environment reverberation renders his fast-paced music unitelligable (I once heard him live conducting in the abbey of Melk). >>
Bradley Lehman wrote:
< How is that about the man himself, exactly? >
A turn of phrase, Brad; my point was about his conducting tempi.

< And, why would anything about the man (if such were presented) be relevant? It would just be an ad hominem argument to make him seem incompetent, wouldn't it? Just checking. >
The question is hypothetical, as nothing of the sort was presented.

<< On the issue of 'alla breve', I have the Peter's keyboard/vocal reduction which is based on the latest research by Christoph Wolff. It indicates both the 2nd Kyrie and the "Gratias" as 'alla breve'; the same is true in the NBA score. Do we deduce from this that the 'Dona nobis pacem' should be performed at half the tempo of the "Gratias agimus tibi"? This would certainly facilitate the expected peace! >>
< Or, do we deduce that Bach knew intelligent musicians don't need to be told the same instructions twice: that we'd recognize the same notes and play them similarly the second time? >
So if you were an NBA editor, given your academic training, you would mark both movements as 'alla breve'. Or do you accept that Junghaenel might be in error with such an assumption?

<< Tonight, I compared various recordings of the "Gratias". The worst performances, in my opinion, were Karajan and Leonhardt, with Münchinger and Richter (1962) only a little better. Parrott turned in a non-descript offering of little merit, with Brembeck somewhat preferred. Richter's 1985 performance is much slower than in 1962, and much better. Gardiner is attractive, as is Rifkin; although these are certainly both lightweights. Finally, I listened to Rilling and confirmed his is the slowest and, moreover, in another league from the others. >>
< Care to elaborate the aesthetic standards that inform your preferences? Or is it just a nebulous matter where whatever seems best is automatically best? >
As a youth, I once played a Chess Master and asked if he saw the complexities of our position. "No", he replied, "I see Bishop-takes-Queen and the rest is done unconsciously". Likewise, with the 'Dona nobis pacem ones play a few seconds of a recording and perceives "Peace" or something else. The "something else" may be very good, but it is still a corruption of the intended affekt (N.B. I do make the assumption that Bach would not allow himself to set this text incorrectly).

<< I am ever mindful of the uncomfortable juxtaposition of "pearls" and "swine", but notwithstanding, I've uploaded the Rilling 'Dona nobis pacem' for analysis and comment: http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/BachCantatas/files/ >>
< Thanks. As another old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. So it is also with hearing recordings vs reading about them. >
What makes you think the sample might be for you, then?

< On the other hand, isn't it clear that Jesus referred to casting one's own pearls before the swine, and not the pearls of someone else's copyrighted work? >
As someone who is certifiably competent, wouldn't your review constitute fair usage?

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< I can't comment on the Junghänel recording as I haven't heard it yet, but I can comment on the man himself. In my opionion, he produces great studio recordings >
...which tend to be made in churches.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< ". Likewise, with the 'Dona nobis pacem': ones play a few seconds of a recording and perceives "Peace" or something else. The "something else" may be very good, but it is still a corruption of the intended affekt >
How do you know?

Charles Francis wrote (April 12, 2004):
[To Gabriel Jackson] I know whether I perceive an incongruence between text and music. And I assume Bach did not intend me (the listener) to experience such incongruence.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< I know whether I perceive an incongruence between text and music. And I assume Bach did not intend me (the listener) to experience such incongruence. >
Since "Dona Nobis Pacem" means "give us peace" there are a number of ways of understanding such a supplication - serene repose is not the only one. Urgency? Desperation? Resignation? (Etc. etc)

Charles Francis wrote (April 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
<< I can't comment on the Junghänel recording as I haven't heard it yet, but I can comment on the man himself. In my opionion, he produces great studio recordings >>
Gabriel Jackson wrote:
< ...which tend to be made in churches. >
Maybe Junghänel rushed the "Dona nobis pacem" to finish before Evensong? Unwanted reverberation in recordings can be readily eliminated with close miking.

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Maybe Junghänel rushed the "Dona nobis pacem" to finish before Evensong? >
Of course! Silly me. That explains it. (Except it's not rushed.)

Gabriel Jackson wrote (April 12, 2004):
Charles Francis wrote:
< Unwanted reverberation in recordings can be readily eliminated with close miking. >
It can't be eliminated. Its audibility can be reduced by close miking.

 

Christe eleison

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 12, 2004):
At Xinh's Bach website I've read that in the 2nd movement of the B minor Mass "In the first 23 bars, the two voices, which may syChrist and Father, alternate between parallel movement and canonic duet. The obbligato violin part, if considered a symbol for the Holy Ghost, completes the Trinity".

Something wrong must be here: Father asks his son to have mercy upon him, Christ asks the same himself? Perhaps there is no simbolism here, otherwise it's illogical.

What function does "Christe eleison" perform in standard masses, what is it supposed to depict?

Paul Farseth wrote (June 13, 2004):
Juozas Rimas wrote: < What function does "Christe eleison" perform in standard masses, what is it supposed to depict? >
Are not the "Kyrie eleison" and the "Christe eleison" of the mass relics of the earliest Christians' repudiation of the ultimate divine authority of the Roman government? I believe that the Romans used the expression "Kyrie eleison" or "Kaesar eleison" (in the common Greek of the eastern part of the empire) as expressions of submission to the Caesar, the emperor, who was not only lord (kyrie) and master but also a sort of divine embodiment of the holy spirit of Roman civilization. When Christians uttered their "Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison!" they were in effect mocking the standard expression of loyalty to the emperor, substituting Christ as the object of their appeal for mercy and kindness.

 

Clearest Crucifixus?

Juozas Rimas wrote (June 25, 2004):
Could you tell about your impression of the clearest, cleanest 'Crucifixus' from the B Minor mass that you have encountered? Was there an occurence when you thought to yourself that this is THE rendition, that you hear the voices better than before and they blend perfectly?

In Herreweghe's 1988 version that I listen to now, I'd enjoy more audible low voices. The version is fine, but I'd still like to know other's opinions about their best Crucifixus.

 

Another B minor Mass [BeginnersBach]

Sw Anandgyan wrote (May 14, 2005):
Not just to inform you that the is Bach Collegium Japan is performing a couple of Motets and the B minor Mas this year, but sharing my luck in the OOP department too: http://www.bach.co.jp/english_page_top.htm

One of my wish-list item was seen in Montreal, the Frieder Bernius recording of the J.S. Bach Motets on the Vivarte label; just one listen so far and it's too early for me to say anything more substantial than I'm quite pleased.

Now a surprise, and a Grammy winner if this matters somehow, I've chosen to jump on the opportunity to land the B minor Mass from Robert Shaw on the RCA label because of its historical importance, I've read the liner notes and some info from the Mr. Teri Noel Towe's article on the Bach Cantatas Website and it will sit besides the one from Scherchen II, K. Richter I and Karajan II.

I'm currently listening to it for the first time and I'm truly stunned for its on-target approach for it is not a mammoth rendition nor is it wimpish; there is a vibrancy to it. I must say that the 'Qui tollis' section is simply very abundant in its suaveness and
I'm amazed.

The other acquisition is in a way, honoring the good words from Brad Lehman about the 'band' La Fenice since I have picked up the Akademia recording of the Motets from Johanns to Johann Sebastien Bach on the Pierre Verany label; suffice it to say that the cantata BWV 118 is extremely delightful. The Alfred Deller recording of the Agnus Dei is still on my wish-list and I have rejoiced reading that a British member of the main Bach lists has got his hands, and his ears, on this hard-to-find CD and has raved about it.

This Akademia compact disc will add a contrasting possibility to the Cantus Cölln version of the Bach Archives ...

I do not want to start any polemic, I was 'raised' on HIP for my first MBM was Gardiner and the second one was Herreweghe I, but those modern-instruments recordings that have "my age" do stretch my musical horizon and for this, and the occasional true enjoyment, the collector in me is well and alive.

So, what's on your CD player or your wish-list?

John Pike wrote (May 14, 2005):
Sw Anandgyan wrote: < The Alfred Deller recording of the Agnus Dei is still on my wish-list and I have rejoiced reading that a British member of the main Bach lists has got his hands, and his ears, on this hard-to-find CD and has raved about it. >
Yes, but I got it through Amazon.com in the USA.

 

My article on Bach's First Kyrie

Uri Golomb wrote (June 21, 2005):
My article "Rhetoric and Gesture in Performances of the First Kyrie from Bach's Mass in B Minor (BWV 232)" has been published in volume 3 of JMM: The Refereed On-Line Journal for Multi-Disciplinary Research on Music and Meaning. The article, which discusses the shaping of the First Kyrie in a large number of recordings of the B minor Mass, features audio examples illustrating several of the performances discussed (though, for copyright reasons, these exceprts are fairly short). I hope you will find it of interest.

You can view the article on: http://www.musicandmeaning.net/issues/showArticle.php?artID=3.4 (alternative link: http://tinyurl.com/7rsyl).

Tom Dent wrote (June 21, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] Apparently a very complex subject, resistant to summarization!

Has anyone read Hans Keller's essays on Haydn quartets and on music in general? Keller was not at all a historical specialist, although he knew a lot about the changes in violin playing since the beginning of the (20th) century and beyond.

One of the points there relates to the 'atomization' question. Namely, mini-phrases (usually thought of as gestures in Baroque interpretation) by themselves do not produce large-scale 'relationships' or gestures or paragraphs or Saetze, if each mini-phrase is treated the same as the next. In other words, there is no meaningful relationship between two things that are the same; a relation or proportion or overall direction requires that there be no exact recapitulation of any gesture. Another way to see the same thing is that each small gesture is heard in the context of all that has musically happened before, which is a different context from a bar earlier or later. Therefore interpretation, at least so far as it makes a piece more than half a minute long listenable, cannot be decided by seeing just a few notes.

Somewhat off topic, some composers deliberately called for, or seem to require, such gradations to be erased. For example Haydn in the Trio of the 'Fifths' quartet, or the Minuet of Symphony 102, writes groups of repeated crotchets with no dynamic or articulation marks at all, which seem to require a completely 'deadpan' performance, with the greatest possible contrast to other (much accentuated and dynamic-laden) passages in the same movement. This is part of the famous Haydn humour, making music out of what sounds at first like a quite featureless accompaniment. Or if you like, the temporary absence of gesture on a small scale produces the most effective gesture on a large scale. Such humour was though rather unique to Haydn and his best pupil.

Or one might learn by reading Henry James that the decision not to gesture is itself a gesture...

Jack Botelho wrote (June 23, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] Thanks for pointing out your article here. I appreciated the linking of historically informed performance practice with concern for musical gestures, or more accurately, according to your definition, "gestural" or micro/atomistic rhetorical expression with regard to this selected sample of Bach's work, and drawing attention to this as a defining characteristic of baroque music. All too often, HIP has become for many listeners simply the employment of period instruments, minimal vibrato, and the duplication of musical forces believed to be employed at the time, without regard to what I would generally call a concern for a historically accurate musical "style".

Tom Dent wrote (June 23, 2005):
One further thought on Uri's article. I think I am correct in saying that the G-F# steps in the BMM Kyrie fugue were described as 'appoggiaturas'. In many circumstances these would be phrased with some kind of diminuendo, and the second note would be on a weaker beat, or off the beat.

The distinction between weaker and stronger places or beats in the bar is of course about the first thing to learn in Baroque interpretation.

However, in the Kyrie these G-F# figures start in a weak place (an off-beat) and finish on a relatively strong one (on the beat). Hence the conventional diminuendo phrasing of a G-F# figure is contradicted by the conventional slight increase in dynamic implied by a progression from a weaker to a stronger place in the bar.

Hence, the figures might not be an 'appoggiatura' at all. This view is reinforced by the fact that both the G and the F# are harmony notes, whereas the context of an appoggiatura is a nonharmonic (discordant) note resolving to a concordant one.

(The second movement of the 1st Brandenburg concerto provides another pertinent example in the quaver 8-7-8 figures, which despite their slurring are not appoggiaturas, because the 7 is discordant; rather they are passing notes.)

For melodic two-note figures from a weaker to a stronger beat a composer might either use staccato dots or a slur to make it clearer which alternative is to be favoured. The performer must somehow give both the melodic progression and the rhythmic/harmonic context their due. No doubt this is a major factor in the widely diverging performances of the subject. In any case, the use of the word 'appoggiatura' seems to imply that a particular manner of performance (namely diminuendo) is called for.

John Pike wrote (August 3, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] I have at long last got round to reading this excellent paper.

Despite some of the technical aspects being well above my head, it was possible to gain much from the paper on a quick read-through. I would have preferred having the time to study it more closely with a score and to listen to the extracts.

I was particularly impressed by the way that local gestural features can contribute to the shaping of the overall movement (as well as disturbing it, as Rilling once contended).

The paper demonstrates how deeply some of these outstanding musicians think about their work in the greatest detail, paying attention to everything in the music. I am now very keen to acquire Hickox's recording.

I was interested by the quote from Tureck near the beginning, in which she expresses a rigid approach to performance of recurring fugue subjects. My own experience of Tureck's playing is that she has a strongly gestural approach, although I know others would disagree. Strong accentuation is frequently used and, I feel, contributes to the overall shaping of the music. Certainly, I find her approach to the 48 in both her 1953 and 1975-6 recordings very different to that of Glenn Gould, for example, who in these works I often find maddeningly equipollent and, in fact, seemingly disinterested.

Uri Golomb wrote (August 5, 2005):
[To John Pike] Many thanks for these positive comments -- glad you enjoyed it!

About Tureck's WTC: I only know her first recording (1953). I think she does bring out the subjects too emphatically in many of the fugues in that recording, sometimes at the expense of other materials. That said, she is certainly not as rigid as her own advice might imply; and notwithstanding the reservation I just expressed, I greatly enjoy and admire that recording. Even more than that, I enjoy the two sets that appeared on Philips Great Pianists series, featuring (among other things) her Partitas and one of her many recordings of the Goldbergs.

From several comments I read, on this list and elsewhere, I suspect that I would enjoy her 1970s version of the WTC even more than the 1953 one -- I must get hold of it some day!

John Pike wrote (August 5, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] I have read a number of reviews of Tureck's two sets of recordings, unanimous that the second set is better. it is a number of years since I heard the 1953 set so I cannot compare them myself, but I have greatly enjoyed book 1 of the 1975 set. I will start book 2 tomorrow.

I forgot to say yesterday how interested I was that Rilling seems to be adopting a number of HIP features in his more recent recordings. That was something I gathered from an e mail Aryeh recently sent about the more recent recordings he did of a few cantatas.

 

Bach's seriousness

Eric Bergerud wrote (December 10, 2005):
Last week Doug snapped at me for suggesting that Mozart was an irresponsible punk and Bach a Bible thumping prig. I pled innocent to the charge. But I've been thinking about the issue on and off the last few days and thus reread much of Wolf.

Wolf argues that both of Bach's late masterpieces Art of the Fugue and Mass in B were composed not for no specific performance (indeed, Wolf thinks it uncertain that Bach thought they would be performed). Instead, he argues that both works were to be a kind of musical testament to Bach's highest level of composition. (Just got the 1968 Harnoncourt Mass in B and the liner note says exactly the same thing. Harnoncourt wrote it and goes into much of his attitudes toward music at the time. If Harnoncourt's ideas come up again, I'll scan the notes and post them.) In other words Bach composed two monumental works (portions of which were written throughout his long career) for the satisfaction of himself and, presumably, his musical peers. No possibility here of making a lot of money and Bach was hardly looking for a new position at that age.

I realize that many an academic over the years has composed something with little or no hope of the work being played. However, I can't think of another famous composer that created two major works simply to satisfy an artistic yearning. Am I reading this wrong?

BTW: I am not knocking Mozart. He died a young man and I suppose it would have been possible that had he reached old age he might have created some "art for art's sake." That is if his wife hadn't bought another new hat or the wine merchant was clamoring for payment.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 11, 2005):
A brief initial reply regarding Bach's last two great works and their supposed status as legacy with no thought of performance:

B MINOR MASS: There is consensus about why Bach composed the work, and whether or not he intended it to be performed (in parts, or in its entirety -- though when he wrote the Kyrie and Gloria in 1733, he definitely thought in terms of a possible performance in Dresden). George Stauffer, in his book on the work, does suggest possible venues and occasions for a complete performance, though as he himself admits, it's all speculative. Personally, I find it unlikely that such a large choral-orchestral piece was written only for intellectual satisfaction; but on the other hand, there is no definite proof of any real possibility of its performance.

ART OF FUGUE: Bach intended to publish this work. As I understand it, he didn't intend it for public performance, but he DID intend it for a practical use: the study of composition and performance. The work was meant, at least in part, to serve a didactic aim: it might not have been intended to be listened to by an audience, but it was definitely intended to be played by students of counterpoint and polyphony, either to themselves or to/with their teachers. (I write more about this in an article on the Art of Fugue which is due to published in the forthcoming issue of Goldberg, and should also become avaialble on the internet in a few months' time).

 

Mass in B minor

Drew Point wrote (December 29, 2005):
Has anyone heard any news about a possible Bach Collegium Japan / Suzuki recording of BWV 232?

Over the years I have enjoyed the following recordings: Gardiner, Hickox, Parrott, Herreweghe (I and II), Christophers, and more recently, Junghaenel.

Although there is no shortage of good recordings, I have to echo the words of U2's Bono (from "The Joshua Tree"): "I have still haven't found what I'm looking for."

I am hoping that -- with all the Cantata experience -- Suzuki's eventual B minor Mass will be definitive reading.

John Pike wrote (December 30, 2005):
[To Drew Point] I have all the recordings you list, with the exception of the 2 Herreweghe ones. I have a lot of Herreweghe's Bach recordings, including most of the cantatas he has recorded, the motets and the first SMP, and admire his interpretations very much. This week, I have been listening to his new recording of BWV 207 and BWV 214, and older recordings of cantatas BWV 2, BWV 20, BWV 176 and BWV 8, BWV 125, BWV 138.

I seem to remember seeing mixed reviews of his MBMs and would be interested to hear whether others share your approval of his MBMs. In particular, I would be interested to hear from Uri. Do I need to get them?!

Bradley Lehman wrote (December 30, 2005):
[To John Pike] I have both of these (among several dozen others). The "old" one is from April 1988 and the "new" one from July 1996. There are only about a dozen musicians in common between these two, in either the chorus or orchestra. His chorus is 21 singers the first time, 23 the second; and in both the alto section is a blend of women and men. The soloist rosters are at
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Rec5.htm
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Rec6.htm

The "old" one has slightly quicker tempos in most of the movements, and crisper articulation. I like it better than the "new" one, but part of my feeling about that might be from much longer exposure to it. When the first one came out I got it right away, and listened to it a lot. I picked up the second one only a few years ago, it's on a crowded shelf, and it hasn't compelled me to spend as much focused time with it. It doesn't seem as robust, or something. It makes me wish for more closely defined detail, as Leonhardt's delivers.

Some earlier discussion: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV232-Herreweghe.htm

I too am interested to hear Uri's thoughts about these two Herreweghe recordings, from his dissertation about this composition and the interpretation styles thereof.

Something I especially like about Herreweghe's musicianship, both here and in the cantatas, is the way he gets his orchestral musicians to phrase their lines like singers. It has that grace and a sense of grammar, with natural accentuation like the way it happens in speech.

At the moment, some of my favorites for MBM are Fasolis, Hengelbrock, Junghaenel, Parrott, Leonhardt, and 1986 Harnoncourt. I'd put the first Herreweghe in that group, too. And obviously all of these sound quite different from one another. I still put on the Klemperer and Scherchen occasionally, too. But those two and Hengelbrock make me impatient to get through the first Kyrie.

This year I've been playing through the MBM from a piano/vocal score, with my harpsichord tuned as detailed here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~bpl/larips/vocal.html
There are some amazing beauties in the composition that way, with the tensions and relaxations of the harmony.

How is the new Herreweghe disc of 12, 38, and 75? I haven't got around to buying it yet: Amazon.com

Uri Golomb wrote (December 31, 2005):
I have now been asked by two members to comment on Herreweghe's MBMs. I don't have time for a detailed response, but briefly: unlike Brad, I prefer the second recording to the first. There is much that I like about both; but only the 1996 version has made it into my list of top-favourite MBMs (a list which also includes Harnoncourt 1986, Hengelbrock, Hickox, and ... Eugen Jochum).

In terms of articulation, the newer recording is indeed smoother and less incisive on the whole; on the other hand, it has some extremely sharp moments which have no equivlaents in the earlier version. The dynamic range in the later recording is definitely wider. So, on the whole, the 1988 version feels smoother than the 1996 version, despite the fact that there is much more legato articulation in 1996.

Personally, I feel that the the 1996 version is more alive and involving, with a greater sense of momentum. Neither version would count among the most dramatic versions I've heard (compared to, say, Harnoncourt 1986, Hengelbrock, Faolis and Jeffrey Thomas -- and others). I say this neither as criticism nor as praise, but simply as characterisation: I think the Mass can work in many different ways, and Herreweghe's refined lyricism and expressiveness is just as effective as more dramatic approaches.

Hope this helps,

Drew Point wrote (December 31, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< There is much that I like about both; but only the 1996 version has made it into my list of top-favourite MBMs (a list which also includes Harnoncourt 1986, Hengelbrock, Hickox, and ... Eugen Jochum). >
Thank you for your comments, Uri.

Could you comment a bit more on the Hengelbrock recording -- why it is part of your top MBM recordings?

I actually just bought it last week (it has been on my "hit list" for a while) and haven't had time to listen to it much. When I put it on for the first time, what struck me most was the slowish tempo of the opening Kyrie section.

Kevin Parent wrote (December 31, 2005):
Herreweghe's 2nd MBM is probably my favourite HIP recording of the work, though as such it takes a backseat to Richter, Scherchen's mono, Enescu, Rilling's most recent and (based on a couple recent listtens) Maazel. What Herrewghe accomplishes that distinguishes from most other is making the piece liturgical rather than concert oriented.

Suzuki has the potential to bump him though.

I quite like the recordings by Kuentz (very Richterian in the trumpet department), Brüggen and Müller-Brühl.

Radu tries too hard to be different. Always interesting, not always musical.

Have recently acquired Rilling's 1977, Schneidt's and Marriner's but haven't given them a spin yet. I think my count has passed 60.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 31, 2005):
I think that Gustav Leonhardt's recording of the Mass with the La Petite Bande is worth adding to the list although it goes back a few years--originally 1985 and reissued in 1990 on Deutsche Harmonica Mundi. Not as exciting as some later versions but consistent with some fine moments.

On Historic recordings I recently obtained an EMI Classic reissue of the early 1930s versions of the Brandenburgs with JacquesThibaud. This is the first complete recording of the complete set, originally on 78s, of course---fascinating listening and a 'must' for collectors.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 31, 2005):
< I think that Gustav Leonhardt's recording of the Mass with the La Petite Bande is worth adding to the list although it goes back a few years--originally 1985 and reissued in 1990 on Deutsche Harmonica Mundi. Not as exciting as some later versions but consistent with some fine moments. >
Yes, I would second that. Although I didn't mention it among my personal top favourites (stress on "personal"), it comes very, very close -- and I well imagine some listeners preferring it to some of my favourites (Harnoncourt 1986 and Hengelbrock will probably strike several listeners as rather eccentric).

< On Historic recordings I recently obtained an EMI Classic reissue of the early 1930s versions of the Brandenburgs with JacquesThibaud. This is the first complete recording of the complete set, originally on 78s, of course---fascinating listening and a 'must' for collectors. >
I assume you mean the performance conducted by Alfred Cortot, with Thibaud playing solo violins? I have this set, and I particularly enjoy listening to the 5th Brandenburg Con. I usually don't like hearing this particular work on the piano, but Cortot's playing is fascinating and revelatory, illuminating many details that are seldom heard in other performances without stopping the overall flow; the performance on the whole is also very enjoyable.

Uri Golomb wrote (December 31, 2005):
Drew Point wrote:
< Could you comment a bit more on the Hengelbrock recording -- why it is part of your top MBM recordings?
I actually just bought it last week (it has been on my "hit list" for a while) and haven't had time to listen to it much. When I put it on for the first time, what struck me most was the slowish tempo of the opening Kyrie section. >
Hengelbrock's is not what I could call a "safe" recommendation: it's a very personalised performance, tending towards great extremes, and as such can easily put people off. However, I find it very expressive and dramatic in the best sense, combining a keen attention to details and a daring and persuasive approach to the whole. In polyphonic textures, when different lines move in differnet rhythms and different thematic materials are combined, Hengelbrock often stresses these internal differences, creating a sense of dialogue (and sometimes a subtle clash) within the texture. I also find that he imbues even his slowest movements with a sense of purpose and direction -- although slow, they do not strike me as static.

The First Kyrie is indeed among the slowest on record; on the other hand, some other movements (for exapmle, the "Cum sancto") he is among the fastest on records. In this tendency towards extremes (not all the time, but much of the time), Hengelbrock reminds me of Scherchen -- another conductor who is likely to arouse strong reactions, both for and against. There are, indeed, surprising similarities between the two. But I definitlely prefer Hengelbrock -- not least because he reveals (and revels in) the polyphonic textures with greater clarity and meaning than Scherchen (Scherchens' remarakble ARt of Fugue is crystal-clear throughout, but I can't say the same of either of his B minor Masses). It helps, of course, that he has a much better choir (and, I think, also a better orchestra) than Scherchen. Indeed, I conssitently enjoy the beuatiful sound of both ensembles -- the orchestra succeds in soudning both incisive and sensuous. Sonority in itself rarely persuades me to favour a recording (Karajan's 1974 Mass is among the most beuatiful I've ever heard, in the narrow sense of "beauty of soudn"; but it's still one of my least favourite Bach performances). But when it is joined with a fine interpretation, it's obviously a plus.

My recommendaiton on Hengelbrock would definitely be "sample before buying". Try listening to the First or Seocnd Kyrie, and see if their tempi are not to slow for you; try the Qui tollis, and see if you like the way he separates strands in the texture; try his Et in unum, and see how you feel about his very detailed (and, to my mind, very perceptive) handling of the orchestral parts. (Listen to the WHOLE movement -- the character of the movement changes as the performance proceeds). All the movements I listed here are among my favourites, and I enjoy them without reservation; yet each of them might strike some other listeners as too slow (in the case of the Kyries) or too fussy. So try and see how you feel about them -- if you like them, then chances are you'll like the whole thing.

Robert Sherman wrote (December 31, 2005):
[To Kevin Parent] I recommend Marriner. Concept much like Richter, but without Adolf Scherbaum's trumpeting which, at least on the first Richter recording, tends to be of the "I am very loud, therefore I am" school which I don't like at all.

Julian Mincham wrote (December 31, 2005):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< I assume you mean the performance conducted by Alfred Cortot, with Thibaud playing solo violins? I have this set, and I particularly enjoy listening to the 5th Brandenburg Concerto. I usually don't like hearing this particular work on the piano, but Cortot's playing is fascinating and revelatory, illuminating many details that are seldom heard in other performances without stopping the overall flow; the performance on the whole is also very enjoyable. >
Yes absolutely. I think it's amazing how' modern' Cortot's performances sound at times--at others out of a different world.

Talk of brandenburg 5 prompts me to remember Furtwangler's post war recording of it with him playing and conducting--all 'wrong' to many ears today--but still strangely compelling.

Drew Point wrote (December 31, 2005):
[To Uri Golomb] Thank you for the very detailed response.

BTW, your dissertation sounds fascinating. Is it available electronically?

I listened again to the beginning of the Kyrie section of Hengelbrock's MBM, and agree that the comparatively slower tempo does create a convincing atmosphere of penitence and prayer.

Do you think the more extreme tempi -- the more dynamic, dramatic approach -- has anything to do with the modern "dramatization" that came with Hengelbrock's performance?

I am looking forward to becoming better acquainted with this recording. From my limited listening so far, I think it has something unique to say about Bach's great opus profundis.

Sw Anandgyan wrote (January 1, 2006):
Drew Point wrote:
< I am looking forward to becoming better acquainted with this recording. From my limited listening so far, I think it has something unique to say about Bach's great opus profundis. >
I look forward to the Suzuki rendition of the MBM too and I think we might see, and hear, the Bernius take on this oeuvre maybe earlier.

Yet to be published though I remember seeing its catalogue number on the Carus website at one point.

Already have 37 recordings of BWV 232.

I wish Uri would comment on the Celibidache one now ...

Terence wrote (January 1, 2006):
It is puzzling that the group doesn't mention, even in passing, the recordings by Harnoncourt (1) and Robert King - beautifully paced and recorded - both of whom use boy choirs and closer to Bach's 'sound' world - always a dangerous assertion. I don't know what sound Bach had in mind, but I do know that it wasn't the Monteverdi Choir's, or Herreweghe's. There is room for all these interpretations, of course. I'm just surprised that the King and the first, revolutionary Harnoncourt, aren't even mentioned. Consider it done.

Juozas Rimas wrote (January 1, 2006):
Uri Golomb wrote:
< I have now been asked by two members to comment on Herreweghe's MBMs. I don't have time for a detailed response, but briefly: unlike Brad, I prefer the second recording to the first. >
The 1996 version includes the Agnus Dei by Scholl which I find to be one of the best examples of male alto singing. So polished and refined!

Drew Point wrote (January 1, 2006):
I haven't heard either of the Harnoncourt recordings.

I do have the Robert King -- fine instrumental and choral contributions (although the Tolzer boys do not always blend well with the Consort Choir).

What I find less satisfying is the use of boy soloists. To my ears, they simply lack the polish of other "adult" soloists in this repertoire. An example: the duet , "Et in unum Dominum . . ." (Matthias Ritter / Matthias Schloderer).

Drew Point wrote (January 1, 2006):
Juozas Rimas wrote:
< The 1996 version includes the Agnus Dei by Scholl which I find to be one of the best examples of male alto singing. So polished and refined! >
Scholl is brilliant here, as always.

(BTW, he wrote an excellent article for the recent all Bach issue of Goldberg, entitled "Singing Bach": <http://www.goldbergweb.com/en/magazine/31967.php>)

I just wish the tempo of "Angus Dei" was a bit faster. It still sounds too drawn out to my ears (in the same way that other parts of this recording sound "overblown" -- as if the soloists were miked too closely).

Julian Mincham wrote (January 1, 2006):
For pure beauty of sound and phrasingI think it is difficult to beat the late and great Alfred Deller singingthe Agnus Dei. This was recorded in the mid 1950s with the Leonhardt ensemble directed by Gustav L and with Nicolaus harnoncourt on baroque cello--although it has to be said that the standard of playing of the ensemble does not match Deller's peerless singing.

This LP also has Deller performing the two solo cantatas BWV 170 and BWV 54.

I have the original LP but have not been able to find out whether it has been reissued on CD. Does anyone know? Similarly has anyone come across a reissue of Deller doing the Purcell, henry Laws etc collections of catches and glees? Originally on two LP records from about 1955.

Paul Dirmeikis wrote (January 1, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] Yes, it has been reissued on CD:
Vanguard Classics Edition Alfred Deller 08 5069 71
(+ Händel : Airs from Jephtée, Théodora & Orlando)
I also find Deller totally awesome in the Agnus Dei.

Kevin Parent wrote (January 2, 2006):
While I veer towards old-school renditions and expected to love the Celibadache, I didn't. I do not, though, want to give the impression that I hate it. You know going in that it's going to be big and lush and romantic, but I think others do that better. Some of the vibrato in the soloists is just too wide even for me. I do like the tempo of the opening Kyrie though (14:41); I've never been convinced by the keep-it-under-10-minutes movement.

Now Robert King has completely spoiled me in terms of Vivaldi's and Monteverdi's sacred works. I simply cannot listen to other versions without them seeming wrong. But, again, I wasn't overly impressed with his MBM. Some of the boys just aren't in tune, which is especially damning in the most beautiful of all arias, the Laudamus Te.

There are good points in both, but neither tops my list.

John Pike wrote (January 3, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] It has, but I think it is out of print. I found a copy through Amazon.com (ie the USA site) last year.

Juozas Rimas wrote (January 3, 2006):
Drew Point wrote:
<< The 1996 version includes the Agnus Dei by Scholl which I find to be one of the best examples of male alto singing. So polished and refined! >>
< Scholl is brilliant here, as always.
I just wish the tempo of "Angus Dei" was a bit faster. It still sounds too drawn out to my ears >
I too don't like drawn out tempos, heard ubiquitously in the mid-20th century recordings. However, Agnus Dei sounds to me such a "thick" material musically: even at a very slow tempo, the density of every sound in the sequence is so huge that it does not suffer from a slow tempo. I'm very grateful to Herreweghe for letting me hear, in extreme clarity, the strings passage at around 3:26 and on in his 1996 recording. It's a fantastic moment.

The tempo of the Agnus Dei helps Scholl to elaborate every second of singing. All in all, this piece does not ask for speed and energy, as the Xmas Oratorio choir that we have recently discussed does. I honor the musical decision of Herreweghe greatly, just as I honor Gardiner's decision in the Xmas Oratorio choir. IMO, it's the essence of musicianship: to make musical decisions that are accepted unbiasedly and with honor paid by many over years.

 

Continue on Part 13

Mass in B minor BWV 232: Details
Recordings:
1900-1949 | 1950-1959 | 1960-1969 | 1970-1979 | 1980-1989 | 1990-1999 | 2000-2009 | 2010-2019 | 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 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17
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 - C. Abbado | BWV 232 - Anonymous | BWV 232 - G.C. Biller | BWV 232 - F. Brüggen | BWV 232 - J. Butt | BWV 232 - S. Celibidache | BWV 232 - M. Corboz | BWV 232 - A. Eby | BWV 232 - G. Enescu | BWV 232 - E. Ericson | BWV 232 - D. Fasolis | BWV 232 - J.E. Gardiner | BWV 232 - C.M. Giulini | BWV 232 - N. Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - T. Hengelbrock | BWV 232 - P. Herreweghe | BWV 232 - R. Hickox | BWV 232 - R. Jacobs | BWV 232 - E. Jochum | BWV 232 - Ifor Jones | BWV 232 - K. Junghänel & Cantus Cölln | BWV 232 - H.v. Karajan | BWV 232 - R. King | BWV 232 - O. Klemperer | BWV 232 - S. Kuijken | BWV 232 - G. Leonhardt | BWV 232 - P. McCreesh | BWV 232 - M. Minkowski | BWV 232 - H. Müller-Bruhl | BWV 232 - S. Ozawa | BWV 232 - M. Pearlman | BWV 232 - K. Richter | BWV 232 - J. Rifkin | BWV 232 - H. Rilling | BWV 232 - H. Scherchen | BWV 232 - P. Schreier | BWV 232 - R. Shaw | BWV 232 - G. Solti | BWV 232 - M. Suzuki | BWV 232 - J. Thomas & ABS | BWV 232 - K. Thomas | BWV 232 - J.v. Veldhoven
Articles:
Mass in B Minor, BWV 232 [T. Noel Towe] | Bach’s B minor Mass on Period Instruments [D. Satz] | Like Father, Like Son [B. 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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