Friday, August 6, 2010

Bach JS - Mass in B minor - Jacobs, Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin

When I first heard this 2CD set, I was probably a little unfair to it. Influenced by some negative criticism I had read, I was ready to put down René Jacobs for using too big a choir (instead of the one-singer-per-part system that seemed to be all that was available to Bach himself), for allowing his soloists to use vibrato (in particular, Bernarda Fink and Matthias Görne) and lastly for not distinguishing his B Minor Mass recording from others by some special feature or other that would give his version a particular "raison d'etre". But in the meantime a number of years have passed, and now I find myself coming back to this prize winning recording (Quarterly List of the German Recording Critics' Association) and appreciating aspects that my prejudices made me fail to hear before. The size of the choir need not, of course, be a problem. Joshua Rifkin, Andrew Parrott and others have pleaded the cause of one voice to a part quite eloquently, but it must be remembered that Bach himself often longed for more singers to be available. And his Mass in B Minor was never performed in Bach's lifetime anyway, having been written as a musical legacy rather than for a specific situation. At all events, René Jacobs could hardly have chosen a better choir than the RIAS Kammerchor, at the time of recording perhaps Germany's leading early music choir under the able leadership of Marcus Creed. The soloists (there are six because Jacobs has two different basses for the two bass arias) are all specialists in this type of music with any number of other recordings to their names. Hillevi Martinpelto, as soprano I, never gets to sing alone, and it is a little difficult to judge her performance, but all the other soloists do anExcerpt from Bach's Mass in B minor excellent job here. Bernarda Fink's rich, dark mezzo is absolutely riveting, so I am able to "forgive" her for her vibrato (its lack being perhaps another early music fetish imbibed during the eighties). Axel Köhler is a somewhat underestimated countertenor who sings with power and conviction, although his timbre is, of course, not quite so pleasing to the ear as that of, say, Andreas Scholl. Christoph Prégardien, tenor, needs no recommendation from me, except to say that his name on the cover of a CD is a good reason to buy it! And the two basses both do excellent work, Franz-Josef Selig perhaps having the more authentic early-music style - the bass arias ("Quoniam tu solus sanctus" and "Et in spiritum sanctum") are gorgeous pieces of music, but I found it difficult to get the first versions I had heard (sung by Peter Kooy on Philippe Herreweghe's recording for Virgin Bach: Mass In B Minor) out of my mind to enable a fair evaluation: Kooy has a gentle warmth in his voice which is pretty unbeatable. As regards the overall impression of the Jacobs recording, I can only say that there is indeed no gimmick here, what René Jacobs has done is to put together a beautiful Mass with great attention to detail: not only the singers but also the orchestra seeming to combine judicious phrasing with accuracy and something that felt almost like a sense of awe in view of Bach's majestic music. Yes, I will listen to the Herreweghe recording in future, it was the one that made me to love this music; but I think the more I also listen to René Jacobs, the more I will appreciate the qualities of this set.--Amazon
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