Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A new edition of the B minor Mass

From October 6, 2015:


Bach’s much revised Mass in B minor has always been problematic, since the composer was still tinkering with the work when he died and the manuscript sources are not completely clear. Bach’s son Carl Philip Emmanuel made significant changes after Bach’s death to create the work as we know it from many performances and recordings, some of which were based on different compositional and performance practices that aren’t considered ‘authentic’ today. The new edition published by Carus in 2014 represents the current state of the art as to what JS Bach might have wanted his great work to contain, including the parts Bach prepared for a performance of the Kyrie and Gloria in Dresden in 1733. This is the first recording to incorporate this new scholarship.

The final result, except for some movements in the Gloria, is subtly different from what we’re used to, rather than a major revision. The second CD contains recordings of these movements in their conventional form so we can compare and contrast. Once the initial surprise over the changes passes, one can see that both versions are very musical, and that the differences are of taste rather than one version being better than another.

The performance by Hans-Christoph Rademann, the Freiburger Barockorchester, the Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart and the solo singers is very capable indeed. Rademann takes some movements at quite a fast pace, and there’s a lightness and grace to both the playing and singing throughout. I very much like the way the voices and the instruments blend; there are many times when I was amazed by moments where the musical texture seemed special. Of course, this is a hard work to listen to in any kind of detached way; Bach always surprises and impresses, and then he turns around and just knocks you to the ground. This is a very fine version of one of the greatest works of art the world has known.

The deluxe version of the recording includes a fascinating DVD with all sorts of scholarly information and insights as well as a live performance of the Kyrie I. Also, the discs are enclosed in a handsome book-format case with an extended version of the printed notes. In this time of streaming audio, it’s still nice to get an optical-disc version of a recording that looks good on a bookshelf.

Here's a short trailer, in German, for the project:


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