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Bach: Mass in B Minor Original recording remastered

4.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Original recording remastered, 9 May 2005
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Product details

  • Conductor: Herbert von Karajan
  • Audio CD (9 May 2005)
  • SPARS Code: ADD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Original recording remastered
  • Label: EMI
  • ASIN: B0007Z0Y86
  • Other Editions: Audio CD
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 124,635 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
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.
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Nothing wrong with the music, it is this recording of it that spoils.
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Karajan and Bach? Well, opinions divide drastically here. The new breed of 'purists' pour scorn on anything that doesn't use period instruments, no vibrato, and limited forces. But, in my opinion, this approach often leads to dull and uninteresting performances that rarely speak to (or from) the heart. Not so in this Karajan recording: he uses grand forces, plenty of swelling crescendos and, thankfully, lots of lovely effective string vibrato. Yes, it's the 'old school' - a school that, more often than not, got it right, despite the purist's views.

What I love most about this performance is the pacing - from the very opening we know we are embarking on a huge musical journey, very apt for a work that has often been hailed as one of the creative monuments of Western civilisation. Karajan is uninhibited - if he wants loud, he gets it, and he always contrasts the peaks with wonderfully intimate and heart-rending soft passages. His focus is consuming, his intent obvious, and his vision is clear: none of the wishy-washy, introvert playing as we so often hear these days - he puts the emotion heart-on-sleeve and Bach can really take this approach. It works!

An integral and, indeed, additional delight, is the glorious voice of Schwarzkopk - again, that wonderful old style of directly converying the music from the heart.

A truly wonderful testament to a time gone by - and one that will endure.
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A recording that takes us back to when dinosaurs ruled the earth, there was no such thing as IT or nouvelle cuisine.

As a professional musician, I learned my craft from this record, sight-reading, the joy of following an orchestral score, singing in with all the vocal lines and so on. Even as a youngster, I was in awe of it.

And why was this possible? Because it gives every word and phrase its full weight orchestral and chorally. The tempi are slow and reverent - e.g., the "Gloria," almost a feeling of 3/4 rather than 3/8 (admittedly, written in this), the "Confiteor unum Baptisma" (from the Credo section) with its massy walking bass, the "Laudamus Te" where every note of the treacherous violin part is clearly articulated.

By contrast, modern recordings give us a galloped "Gloria," a running "Confiteor," and a "Laudamus Te" with the violin slithering about all over the place. Frankly, modern tempi are too fast.

So if this recording errs on the slow side, it keeps its majesty and reverence. The quiet bits are still too quiet and no amount of remastering will help that.

And the soloists are pure legend. Schwartzkopf with controlled sweetness, Hoffgen the embodiment of capability and expressiveness, Gedda shining with a pale golden lustre, and Heinz the bass athletic and tuneful.

So if there is music in Heaven, this could be it.
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A very interesting recording in which Karajan successfully conducts some very well established artists to perform work by 'the one and only'...
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It's Bach, so apparently we must all "approach the altar" with reverence.

Some considerations - this is an old recording ('fifties). The voices are feeble throughout and heavy on the vibrato. As for pace - what pace, pray? Karajan is either a stickler for metronomic accuracy (he isn't... and yes, my Wittner is ticking away nicely) or chronically over-indulgent, luxuriating in his warm blanket of sound. To be (brutally) honest, this sounds like a collection of geriatrics under the baton of someone who thinks they are doing awfully well. He must know best, as must the soloists listed on the front of the CD - they MUST be good. Well, Ms Schwarzkopf and Ferrier, if this is your best I am amazed you made it past your local Choral Society.

If you prefer historic recordings (and are in the market for Testament releases of "The Ring" and suchlike) by all means buy it. If you prefer your music to have the benefits of digital technology, yet be performed on period instruments AND have a pace beyond that of a part-time asthmatic Andean llama herder, go for Gardiner. For reference, there is a difference of nearly three minutes in the opening Kyrie alone (comparisons on youtube).

They say this "classic" recording brings one closer to heaven. I am sure they are right. Play it on the day you retire and you'll find yourself winging your way to St Peter by the time Karajan's painful "Agnus Dei" draws to a close.

On the plus side, the two CDs make very tasteful wine coasters.
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