The second section of the Mass in b, the Gloria, is, to me, the heart
of the work. It begins with the Gloria in excelsis which contains an
instrumental introduction followed by choral passages. This is joyous,
fast, and powerful music of strong impact. Four of the versions have
a significant deficiency: Rifkin's has some squirrely vocal passages,
Pearlman's appears hurried, Parrott's has an instrumental introduction
where the orchestra doesn't quite seem in sync, and King's has the boy
soloists who do not sound very good. Hickox, Herreweghe, Bruggen, and
Leonhardt are very solid. Gardiner does best here with a rousing
instrumental begining and outstanding choral contributions.
The Gloria in excelsis leads into the Et in terra pax which is my
favorite part of the Mass in b. It has it all: lyricism, tenderness,
longing, tension, power, momentum, joy, etc. It's about as perfect a piece
of music I know. Performances must elicit all these emotions and strike
deep within me to gain my full approval. Of the nine versions at hand, no
one particular performance stands tall above the rest. However, there are
three (Gardiner, Hickox, Herreweghe) which don't quite measure up to the
others. Gardiner's surprisingly has some vocal/choral moments which are
not as precise and expressive as I would expect. Hickox, although good,
is not distinctive in any way. Herreweghe's has a tempo handling problem;
he clocks in at about 5 minutes while the norm is in the 4 to 4.5 minute
range. His performance tends to drag. Compare him to Bruggen who also
clocks in at about 5 minutes. Bruggen doesn't drag at all; he gives me
the perception that 5 minutes is just right - very impressive.
My original intent was to cover the entire Gloria in one posting. But,
I'm finding that listening to 9 versions a multiple number of times is
very time-consuming. Roger Hecht - how do you manage it? Anyways, I'll
just go at the pace which is comfortable for me.
I'd like to end this posting with a few comments about the one-voice per
part issue. I'm not very interested in the historical accuracy of this
matter; I am interested in whether the one-voice per part approach can work
well, and conductors such as Parrott and Rifkin have proven that it works
just fine. Increasing performing forces increases "volume", but has no
necessary impact on incisiveness, depth, or expressiveness. Therefore, I
find this issue relatively superficial. To bypass Bach recordings on the
basis that one-voice per part does not provide the "majesty" of Bach just
strikes me as inaccurate.
More of the Gloria in my next posting. It's good to have a Bach thread
interspersed with the triple whammy of Mendelssohn, Liszt, and Tchaikovsky.
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