Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
A traditional account with highs and lows
on 21 October 2014
This recording seems to polarise reviewers and some reviews are absurdly extreme in both directions of loving and loathing. It seems to me that we must first recognise that this recording cannot evince much Period influence because there was hardly any to be had in the early 70's and thus to complain about its absence is otiose. Secondly, the tempi here are hardly any more marmoreal than the famous Klemperer recording idolised by so many; I grant that the opening beat does seem abnormally leaden but if you stick with it you see how carefully Karajan crafts the building of tension and is deliberately signalling a mighty, reverential approach to this monumental work. Nevertheless, this music is also remarkably joyful in character for a solemn Mass and I equally accept that Karajan overdoes the reverence.
The sound is a little ploggy and leaden but not damagingly so; Karajan's smoothness and homogeneity of sound has been labelled "soupy" by many but the lump is leavened by the beauty of so many famous instrumental and vocal star soloists, such as flautist James Galway, oboist Heinrich Kärcher, violinist Thomas Brandis and the gorgeous paring of soprano the ethereal Gundula Janowitz and the rich mezzo of Christa Ludwig.
In fact the greatest weakness here is in the four choruses derived from the Vienna Singverein. At times they are their usual impressive selves but there are too many moments here where they are sloppy, out of tune, and even tentative -such as in the very opening chorus where for some reason they sound like an under-rehearsed amateur choir afraid to sing out in case their mistakes become more audible. Perhaps Karajan asked both them and the orchestra to tamp down the tension but the effect is disconcertingly under-cooked. Fortunately after the poor Kyrie they really warm up for the Gloria - then once again the sopranos go right off form in "Et in terra pax" tweeting ineffectually sotto voce..
This will always be a grand, stately account and many listeners like me like their Bach just so. I do not enjoy the perky, under-powered manner of Gardiner but when it comes to traditional recordings, I still prefer Marriner's greater drive and energy -and his soloists, including a superb team in Margaret Marshall and Janet Baker plus Samuel Ramey's virile, agile bass, are just as good. Neither tenor in those two recordings is a favourite of mine but I find Peter Schreier to sound much better (less nasal) than usual here. Ridderbusch applies his rotund bass to his aria very pleasingly; Baritone Robert Kerns also takes one aria pleasantly enough without being memorable. As I said earlier, the real glory is the duets by Janowitz and Ludwig and the contribution of the solo instrumentalists.