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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Bach's B minor Mass on Period Instruments

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 9 Mar 2000 10:41:27 PST

Content-Type:

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Before I get to the Sanctus, I wanted to mention the listening conditions
I'm using.  It's headphones all the way with my best equipment.  I am
liberally using my bass switch and equalizer and making sure that all
settings are maximizing sound quality.  Sure, there are differences between
discs, but also differences between tracks and within tracks on the same
disc (significant differences).  As an example, the Pearlman Sanctus
(slower part) sounded best to me without additional bass; for the faster
section, I found the additional bass very gratifying.  There are a host
of options, and I try them all out before determining my opinion of the
recorded performance.

The Sanctus is a relatively long choral piece with the first part of
moderate tempo and the second of fast pace.  Regardless which part you are
listening to, "glory" holds center stage, the glory of life and anything
that might come before or after.  The performance must convey that sense of
glory to this listener.  I was interested to see if the recordings that got
bogged down in the Credo would continue with more of the same or "snap out
of it".  Only Leonhardt, Parrott, and Rifkin (in order of preference)
distinguished themselves in the Credo.

Rifkin's Sanctus, taken quite fast, is far from distinguished because of
some poor singing which shouldn't have been allowed.  Leonhardt and Parrott
continue doing well.  And I'm glad to say that all the others do likewise.
Bruggen is even faster than Rifkin but has no problem.  Pearlman flies
through the latter section to no ill effect.  As for Bach's Sanctus itself,
I think of it as one of the best parts of the Mass.  It takes a little
longer to appreciate than the Et in terra pax, but once it kicks in, you're
hooked.  This is "reach for the stars" music.

The Osanna comes next and is supremely joyous music of fast pace.  Of
course, no matter how fast the music is played, it must not sound hurried.
But, that's how Bruggen sounds, as if he wanted to move on to something
else right away.  Leonhardt's account is superior to all others; he has
just the right swagger, and his chorus is excellent; I could listen to him
all day.  The other seven versions are very good.  Gardiner's could have
been at Leonhardt's level, but he tends to be a little choppy in phrasing.

Up next is the Benedictus, an aria for tenor which features the flute
although the violin is considered acceptable; Bach did not specify which
instrument to use (all nine versions use the flute).  The theme of this
aria is "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord".  I wrote that
out to share with you my belief that there is nothing negative, morose, or
foreboding in that theme.  It conveys hope and reverence.  Yet, most of the
versions had a distincty foreboding element conveying a sense of abjectly
waiting for your turn at the gallows.  Three versions, Gardiner, King, and
Hickox, were ever so slow and that pacing really brought out the negative
feelings.  Parrott, Leonhardt, and Rifkin, although faster paced, also
managed to find low points that didn't exist.  Herreweghe, Pearlman, and
Bruggen are special performances.  In the Herreweghe and Pearlman, pacing
is attractive, the flute playing sensational, and it's all done without any
negativity.  I can't say that Bruggen does not eschew the dark side, but
his tenor, Nico van der Meel, is absolute perfection in this piece.  Nico
has a gorgeous tenor voice which is just naturally of good disposition
without any lack of reverence.

Another Osanna follows which is the same music as the previous one.  This
sort of represents a "repeat".  What do you think of this one - in or out?

My next and final posting will cover the Agnus Dei and concluding Dona nobis
pacem, provide capsule summaries of each recording of the Mass, and include
some lasting impressions.

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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