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HIPster Wars - News from the Bach Front - Communiqué 57,
This review is from: Johann Sebastian Bach: Messe in B-Moll (Mass in B minor), BWV 232 (Audio CD)
With fear and loathing in the air, the Silver Hornet snaked its way through the alleyways of Paris. It was being driven by a dapper young man of Oriental appearance. Sitting in the rear of the vehicle, dressed in a sky-blue surplice and with a biography of Robespierre on his lap, was Father Melchizedek OP - the High Priest of Period Practice. In the background, Leif Ove Andsnes was tapping out a Haydn sonata percussively.
"So Cato, my trusty man-servant," the cleric yapped; "the Ninth of Thermidor has come, eh!"
"But not yet gone, your Grace!"
"Your fears are groundless. After all, I do not pay you to think. Your talents like elsewhere . . . Now this could be the most important meeting of the National Convention ever! It could even upstage the Festival of the Supreme Clipped Phrase as a triumph!"
"Why so, your Grace?"
"Cato, I am not overly bothered by the heathen who worship the likes of Karajan and other such musical tsarists. Living in darkness, they cannot pollute the light whereas those heretics who profess alignment with the principles of SPECTRE (Sinister Period Practice Enacted to Counter Traditional Readings Everlastingly) are a different matter altogether. They are contaminants in themselves. They must be eradicated, roots and all! It starts today!"
Upon shrieking out these words, the cleric looked to his right. They were driving past the Place de la Concorde.
"So who is being guillotined tomorrow?"
"You Grace, I believe it is Helmuth Rilling."
"Good! It is about time too! He's nothing more than an agent provocateur. His Bach is dreadful. It brings Barnum and Bailey to mind. I despise him. Off with his head!"
Their destination was at hand. With great pomp and circumstance, the firebrand of 396Hz leapt from the Silver Hornet and bestowed a triple blessing upon those in vicinity. A bell rang; it was time for the next session to begin. Father Melchizedek strode to the podium and seized the microphone. Before addressing the assemblage, the cleric scrutinised the members sitting in the front row. Good - all of his antagonists were present: Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld (SPECTRE'S Number One); Jeggy; the ominously named Reinhard Goebel; Joshua Rifkin; Nikolaus Harnoncourt; Roy Goodman; Tom Koopman; Rene Jacobs; Sandrina Piau; William Christie; Paul McCreesh; Sigiswald Kuijken; Andrew Parrott; Thomas Fey; Sir Woger of Norrington; Jordie Savall; Christoper Spering; Gustav Leonhardt; Trevor Pinnock; Franz Bruggen and poor old Claudio Abbado. The seat that was customarily occupied by Helmuth Rilling was empty.
"My Brothers in Clipped Phrasing," the cleric squawked, "SPECTRE is being haunted by a spectre - the spectre of heresy! There is only one cure for it - the Blade in the Place de la Concorde!"
"What tommy-rot is this!" Jeggy shouted back. "If anyone deserves to lose their head, it's you, you smug little blighter! Will no-one rid us of this meddlesome priest?"
The National Convention erupted in tumult. Order was restored with difficulty.
"Here is evidence of treachery within the ranks!" Father Melchizedek screeched above the catcalls. Reaching into his surplice, he pulled out a copy of Franz Bruggen's performance of Bach's Mass in B Minor from 1989. Corvine-like, he pointed an accusatory finger at the elderly Dutchman. "Yes, Franz - you've been hiding this rare offering in the back-pages of Amazon but I know all about it. How dare you use a good-sized choir! Don't you know that anything more than One-Voice-Per-Part is . . . is . . . is" he gulped with excitement, "TUNING BY COMMITTEE!"
Bruggen shuddered in response. Jeering broke out but the cleric pressed on regardless.
"On the basis of their expressiveness in the Sanctus, I henceforth demand that the so-called Netherlands Chamber Choir be called `the Dutch Huddersfield Tabernacle Choir' - I am disgusted by their romanticism! Worse still, where is the clipped phrasing, I ask you? Allow me to answer: it is completely absent. This is not a lot different from Satan von Karajan. So-Called Brother Bruggen - you failed to heed the example of Brother Rene Jacobs who, in his wisdom, unmercifully clips every phrase like a shearer, no matter what the repertoire might be. Furthermore, the palette of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century is insufficiently ascetic: I despise such bloom. You know what the penalty is . . ."
"Get off and get out!" Goebels yelled.
"Music is not there to convey any ossified spiritual state!' the High Priest of Period Practice ranted. "It is an aesthetic experience pure and simple. Far from being anti-septic, your performance of the B Minor Mass is redolent of an ecclesiastical privity. Far too much attention is paid to the numinosity of the score. God-botherers are banned in the current Reign of Terror. Again, you know what the penalty is . . ."
The National Convention refused to suffer his latest diatribe. Most of its members were on their feet and cursing his name with gusto.
"In your defence," Father Melchizedek intoned at the Dutchman, "you replace the alto with a counter-tenor. All well and good, but Michael Chance sings with far too much vibrato for my liking. The other soloists do not make much of an impression, mainly because they are somewhat recessed in the scheme of things. In the very least they are serviceable from a traditional perspective. The performance itself was evidently stitched together from several live-performances. The Dutch engineers have battled away manfully to provide the listener with a well-rounded experience even if it is heretical in its pith and variable in balance."
By this stage, the unruly cleric could not hear himself above the uproar. What was wrong? He tapped his microphone. It was dead. Looking to his left, to his horror he could see that Cato had yanked the other end of the microphone from its socket with a smirk on his face.
"The blood of Hermann Scherchen chokes him!" Harnoncourt bellowed out.
Seconds later, Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld appeared on the rostrum with a separate microphone in hand. He was accompanied by gendarmes from the Committee of General Security.
"Enough of this nonsense!" he growled, quietening the Convention with a gesture. "Release Helmuth Rilling! Convey my personal apologies to him. Arrest Father Melchizedek! Incarcerate him at once! And someone tell Madame Lafarge to attend the Place de la Concorde at dawn. Buy her some wool too!"