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Bach without nobility
on 5 April 2007
Believe me - I LOVE a good period instrument performance.
But my introduction to the wonderful, inspiring, deep, soulful and noble choral works of Bach started, unfortunately, with John Eliot Gardiner's brassy and ludicrously overrated recording of the Mass in B Minor.
As a result I went several years thinking I didn't like Bach. Then one day I purchased the recording (also on period intruments) by Thomas Hengelbrock, what a revelation - nobility, depth, poise, beauty. Likewise with the extreme one-voice per part Rifkin recording, and the more traditional Peter Schreier-conducted (Philips), the list goes on, wonderful, wonderful depths are to be plumbed in Bach's choral music, and although Gardiner is to be applauded for his patronisation of the cause of Bach, his recordings barely seem to scratch the surface of these noble conceptions. I cannot now fathom the UK music reviewers' glowing reviews of these recordings - I would suggest that those who feel these are 'simply the best' should try other recordings, but perhaps people just have different tastes....
I thus find myself strongly empathising with those who have given it 1 star, but I do feel this is unfair, as there is no arguing with the techical mastery of Gardiner's forces, especially the choir. However, I find 5 stars equally inappropriate, as there is simply no soul, to my ears. I have thus given it 2 stars - I was going to give it 3 but the MBM recording is guilty of pushing me away from Bach for several years, which I now find unforgivable.
I have found ONE Gardiner disk in Bach which is wonderful (DG Bach cantata pilgramage with Magdalena Kozena). But having listened to the SMP and various cantatas, I am VERY wary of Gardiner's Bach and all the disturbingly positive reviews that I cannot in all honestly understand. There is, simply, to me, no soul in this box set of Bach choral works by Gardiner, but if all you want is the notes, clinically played, then buy it, but you're not listening to the same Bach as an awful lot of us.