The Agnus Dei is an aria for alto. "Have mercy on us" is the key part of
the text. Judging from all the venom that the world's people spit out on
a daily basis and the natural disasters that plague us, we sure could use
something. Maybe mercy is just the ticket.
An effective performance of the Agnus Dei always gives me an image of the
heavy walk to the crucifixion with the bass notes measuring out each step
taken. Every version is very good, even the Bruggen which has the fastest
tempo. Parrott's and King's boy sopranos are very good as well.
Impressive all around.
The Dona nobis pacem concludes the Mass and is essentially a repeat of the
Gratias agimus tibi which was part of the Gloria. It's still great choral
music and a fitting tribute to the work.
Level 1 - Leonhardt stands alone. His version has the best choral
singing, a delectable soprano in Isabelle Poulenard, and general pacing and
"swagger" that's second to none. My only regret about the performance is
that the Gratias/Dona nobis pacem is not done very well, and it does show
up twice, most importantly at the conclusion of the work. But, you can't
get everything from one performance of a majestic composition.
Level 2 - Gardiner, Parrott, and Pearlman. Much of what I said about
Lenhardt's recording applies to Gardiner, except that Gardiner's
performance fell down significantly in the Credo. Parrott's version is
proof to me that a one-voice per part approach can be very effective.
Parrott directs well and has excellent contributions from Emma Kirby and
boy soloists. Pearlman is one of the faster versions, and it usually works
well. He has an outstanding soprano in Nicole Heaston and works wonders
in the most appealing choral music.
Level 3 - King, Bruggen, and Rifkin. King's recording offers the best
sound, has interesting boy soloists, and in most respects is a fine
mainstream version in terms of pacing and spirit. Bruggen's version is
very good; he takes chances with a good success ratio and has a great tenor
in Nico van der Meel. Rifkin, like Parrott, employs the one-voice per part
and usually quite well. He elicits outstanding work from the winds and has
excellent sopranos in Judith Nelson and Julianne Baird. Unfortunately,
when he "goofs" he goes all the way.
Level 4 - Hickox and Herreweghe. Hickox is the least memorable recording.
None of the vocal soloists were special, pacing was moderate, and insights
provided were sporadic. Herreweghe provided some special moments not
provided by the others, but had a tendency to sluggish tempos. Both he
and Hickox had major problems with the Credo.
There it is - all done. Before starting this comparison, I would have said
that Gardiner's is the best overall version; his falling off in the Credo
must have left my memory. The newest version, Pearlman's, is very
impressive and is priced as one disc.
Versions I know little of include Koopman, Max, Harnoncourt, and Thomas.
As I said initially, I have the newer Herreweghe recording but have
temporarily lost it. With time, I might add them to the collection.
Of course, I wouldn't do this survey for just any composition. I knew that
I might have close to 40 hours of listening, but didn't mind the prospect
given the gifts inherent in Bach's Mass.
One major item I'd like to emphasize is the pleasure and interest of
listening to different interpretations. I'm glad that some use one-voice
per part, boy soloists, unusal tempos or dynamics, etc. I appreciate the
attempt to be distinctive and personal more than whatever level of results.
As Jos commented in an earlier posting, the variety of interpretation
that's provided to us is an important factor on its own.
I do hope that Jos does a survey of the St. Matthew Passion recordings.
I'll try, in the background, to keep pace with him and am very interested
in reading his perceptions and conclusions.
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