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Thread: Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232

  1. #16
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    Continued from my previous post...

    Looking to the future, there are three current period conductors that I'd like to hear conduct and record the Mass in B minor: (1) Eric Milnes (with Montreal Baroque), (2) Philippe Pierlot (with the Ricercar Consort), and (3) Alfredo Bernardini (with Ensemble Zefiro). Of these three, I'd most like to hear Milnes conduct the Mass, since, in my estimation, he's the finest Bach conductor today. Milnes' brilliant Bach performances in Montreal are often better rehearsed than others, and he chooses his singers more consistently well than most other conductors today. (If Milnes were British, I suspect he'd be more celebrated, and have already received monthly plaudits from the British classical rags & annual awards, etc., but unfortunately he's an American working in Canada, so he's been more off the radar, at least to the Brits, Americans, & Europeans.)

    2. My favorite recordings of the Mass in B minor on modern instruments:

    Back in the early 1980s, before any period recordings of the Mass in B minor had come out, I remember asking a composer friend which conductors of Bach's choral works I should buy on recordings? He paused for a moment, and replied that there were none that he could recommend. "None?" I asked very surprised. "Do you mean there's not a single recording of a Bach choral work in the catalogue that you can recommend?" "No", he replied, "none of the conductors on record have conducted Bach's choral music with an understanding of Baroque style. "What about Eugen Jochum?" I asked. "No. Jochum's style of conducting is all wrong for Bach. "What about Karl Richter?" "No, Richter is overly teutonic and inflexible, his conducting was part of a much later German tradition. I wouldn't recommend his Bach."

    I continued to press him. Finally, he replied,

    "Oh wait. There is one recording I can recommend: Peter Schreier's performance of the Mass in B minor with the New Bach Collegium Musicum of Leipzig, on the Eurodisc label. It's available as a "cut out" right now, so you can buy it inexpensively. But Schreier is the only conductor on record that understands how to conduct Bach's choral music in an 18th century style."

    Taking his advice, I bought the Schreier LP recording, and have returned to it many times with great pleasure over the years. Granted, by today's standards, Schreier's sopranos can sound a bit dated with their wider vibrato (which betrays the age of the recording)--but it is judiciously done and unobtrusive (unlike many of the older Bach recordings). Otherwise, Schreier's 1983 recording was the first HIP recording of the Mass on modern instruments, and he deserves recognition for that. Personally, I think it's one of the finest accounts of the Mass in B minor on record. The musicians of the New Bach Collegium Musicum Leipzig were a subset of the Gewandhaus Orchestra at the time (and included the orchestra's then 1st violinist Karl Süske, and the brilliant 1st trumpeter, Ludwig Güttler), who were trying to bring back Bach's Collegium to Leipzig. As you'd expect, the musicianship and choral singing is first rate, especially from the wonderful brass section, led by Güttler. However, as mentioned, Schreier does take the final Dona nobis pacem a bit faster than is my ideal, but he makes it work, & dynamically so. (Interestingly, Schreier slows down a bit more on his 2nd recording for Philips.) To this day, both recordings--Schreier's first for Eurodisc (now available on Berlin Classics), and his second for Philips, remain my two favorites of the Mass on modern instruments, and I find it hard to choose between them: (this is the 1982 Eurodisc that my composer friend recommended to me:

    III. I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that there are two recordings of Bach's early 1733 Dresden version of the Kyrie and Gloria, which Bach presented to the Dresden Court in hopes of finding royal patronage from the new Catholic prince of Saxony at Dresden, Frederick Augustus II, and to escape from the city authorities in Leipzig, with whom he'd had many disagreements over a ten year period, as they were unable to recognize his great musical genius. The two releases are:

    (1) Pygmalion's recording of Bach's Dresden Kyrie & Gloria, led by Raphaël Pichon, on the Alpha label. Pichon's performance is based exclusively on the "Dresden parts" of 1733, which show many differences or "minor variants" to the version of the Mass commonly heard today. Pichon uses Uwe Wolf's 2010 Bärenreiter new critical edition of the Mass in B minor, which, for the first time, identified and compared the different versions of the Mass (i.e., the initial 1724 version of the Sanctus, the 1733 'Dresden parts', Bach's final 1748-50 score, and C.P.E. Bach's 'revisions' to his late father's work, etc.). Wolf relied on "x-ray spectograph technology to differentiate J.S. Bach's handwriting from the additions made by C.P.E. Bach and others", according to Wikipedia. In the booklet notes, Pichon writes that Pygmalion's goal was to imagine what a performance of the Kyrie and Gloria might have sounded like at the Dresden court in 1733, with the idea that Bach specifically tailored his music to a group of highly skilled, renowned musicians working in Dresden at the time:

    (2) Hans-Christophe Rademann's Carus label recording of a new 2014 edition of the Mass in B minor by scholar Ulrich Leisinger: which claims to be the only recording to "rigorously use" and follow Bach's 1733 Kyrie and Gloria movements; yet additionally accepts some of C.P.E. Bach's later revisions elsewhere in the Mass. By these claims, Rademann apparently considers Leisinger's edition to be more exact to Bach's 1733 handwritten parts than Wolf's 2010 edition (I gather), and/or he considers the Freiburg performance to be more faithful to the letter of the 1733 score than Pygmalion's 'imagining" of a possible Dresden performance. Rademann's set includes extra performances of specific movements in order to further demonstrate the range of variants between the 1733 score and the more commonly heard version today. Indeed Bach's final manuscript was significantly changed by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel after his father's death (especially the orchestration).

    There are two releases of the Carus set: one that comes with a DVD documentary about the new edition (along with 2 CDs)--which is the version I'd recommend, and a second release of 2 CDs, without the DVD:

    2 CDs & DVD:***+in+b+minor

    2 CDs (without the DVD):***+in+b+minor

    Or, you can download the musical content of the 2 CDs (with a digital booklet):

    In contrast, Joshua Rifkin argues that the Mass in B minor finished before Bach's death in 1750 is essentially a different work from the 1733 "Dresden parts" score, and that a combination of the two doesn't correspond to Bach's final "conception" of his Mass. As noted, for his 2006 edition, Rifkin sought to remove all of C.P.E. Bach's 'improvements' or revisions to his father's score. Those listeners with a strong interest in the Mass will want to hear both Rifkin's 2006 edition (which has been recorded by John Butt & the Dunedin Consort) and Leisinger's incorporation of the 1733 Kyrie and Gloria movements into his 2014 edition of the full mass (which, as noted, has been recorded by Rademann and the Freiburg Barockorchester), in order to better decide for themselves. (It should be pointed out that Bach's late handwriting isn't always perfectly clear or legible on the 1748-50 score, so in certain places it probably does make sense to use parts of C.P.E. Bach's 'revised' score.)

    IV. Here are several informative articles on Bach's Mass that I've found helpful:

    The history of the Mass in B minor, etc.:

    A 'play by play' companion to each movement of the mass:


    Finally, I'd strongly recommend John Butt's excellent booklet notes to his Dunedin Consort recording:

    My two cents.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Aug-09-2018 at 21:43.

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  3. #17
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    I just discovered Trout's blog - it is fan-reaking-tastic! He compiled references to different works and scored them for recommendations... here is is entry for Bach's Mass in B minor. (I don't think I can actually quote the blog post here.)
    Liberty for wolves is death to the lambs.

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