Customer Review

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A LITTLE UNDERNOURISHED FOR MY TASTE, 26 April 2007
This review is from: Bach: Mass in B minor (Audio CD)
In my lifetime the number of performers deemed necessary to perform Bach's major choral works has shrunk from a fairly mammoth scale to almost nothing. Now, while I accept the authenticists' arguments about contemporary performing practice, I am still left with a niggling feeling that the sheer scale and grandeur of Bach's inspiration and conception has been short-changed by the rigorous, somewhat puritanical application of these theories. I am not pleading for a return to the serried ranks of the Huddersfield Choral Society in their heyday - those sort of numbers certainly do muddy the waters of Bach's thrilling counterpoint. Nevertheless, at the back of my mind lies a strong suspicion that at the back of Bach's mind when he was writing these works lay a sound that was fuller and richer than we get from Andrew Parrott and the leanest of forces on these discs of the great B Minor Mass. (I admit I am a little less worried as it applies to the Passions which could be argued to benefit from a more intimate scale - though even there the choruses for the `turba' seem a little sparse for a crowd baying for blood as in the `Kreuzige, kreuzige' chorus from the John Passion.)

Certainly we know that contemporaries like Handel would pretty much take as many singers as they could get for any given performance of their choral works. Pragmatism like that applied to performances from the time of the Tudor and Renaissance church composers and were still necessary even for the supremely demanding Wagner who was frequently seeking to fill out the string sections of his orchestras with extra players. Did Bach really conceive the grand moments of the Mass - the Gratias agimus, the Credo, the Sanctus or the final Dona nobis pacem - with such a lean choral sound in mind, despite the added glories of trumpets and drums? Even quieter moments like the wonderful, mystical harmonies of the Et incarnatus or the heartbreaking, shifting harmonies of the Crucifixus with its amazing cadence and transition to the burst of joy of Et resurrexit seem a bit undernourished with such a small group of singers.

Having said that, the singers here are an impressive array of specialist performers, led by the likes of Emma Kirkby, Rogers Covey-Crump and David Thomas. I certainly have no quibble with the use of `authentic' singing techniques in Baroque music. The additional purity of intonation, the lack of Romantic appurtenances that they bring to a performance benefits this kind of music no end. And these are all - even the altos of the Tolzer Boys' Choir - top-notch interpreters of this music. I'm a little less happy about the direction of Andrew Parrott, though. In his efforts to remain true to a performing practice that eschewed modern over-interpretation, he ends up being a little four-square and plain-Jane. Certainly compared to John Eliot Gardiner's classic recording for Archiv. There, I think, you will find the best of period performance. The choir is large enough to give the necessary gravitas to the grander movements. And there is terrific lift and ebullience to Gardiner's rhythms in the faster movements (e.g. the Gloria, Cum Sancto Spiritu, Et expecto, etc.) It's not a matter of tempi - they are, for the most part, pretty similar in both performances - it's a more a question of (dare I say) spirit.

In summary, I would still choose Gardiner as the performance I return to most. However, at such a seriously low price, the Parrott is worth exploring if you want to hear for yourself the strictest period performance theories put into practice.
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