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Customer Review

28 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly (to me) good, 27 May 2010
This review is from: Bach: Mass In B Minor (Audio CD)
First of all, confession time. I heartily dislike Joshua Rifkin's approach to the Bach cantatas and his subsequent massacre of some of the most marvellous music ever written. I don't care how much scholarly justification he has, I bought one cantata CD, listened to it once and gave it away. In my view, Bach needs a proper chorus to give it a bit of oomph in the big numbers. To me, they seem to cry out for it. You do NOT get majesty with four soloists.

Anyway, who cares how it was actually played back in Bach's day? This is music for the ages, and should not be stuck in a stylistic straitjacket. The point of the exercise is surely to give voice to the artistic and aesthetic concepts of which the music is capable, not to regard it as a museum piece occasionally to be respectfully dusted off and given a scholarly airing. To me, a decent chorus (such as Gardiner's Monteverdis) lets the thing sing and dance and jump and shout and encourages you to make a complete fool of yourself by waving your hands in the air and bellowing along in your own key.

So, when I saw the dreaded Rifkin name on this set, my heart sank. I have just made a BIG mistake, I thought. Even noting that this set employs some extra ripieno singers didn't improve my humour.

So, I sat down to listen, without too much expectation - and I confess I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't as awful as I expected. In fact, it was really quite good. Some "choral" bits were simply too anaemic - the opening "Kyrie" and stunning "Hosanna" with its dazzling soaring trumpets need a decent chorus - but others came over surprisingly well and full-blooded. And I must confess that the smaller number of singers does let you hear more clearly Bach's wonderful contrapuntal lines.

All of the singers are excellent, except for the alto who is passable (to my ears adequate in the Agnus Dei, but no more than that). The instrumentalists are outstanding, period. I don't know that I've ever heard a better group of instrumentalists in any B Minor. Occasionally the timpani are too intrusive, but that's the only very slight quibble on that score. The recording is excellent.

If I could, I'd give this set four-and-a-half stars. It hasn't made me feel any better about Rifkin's approach, but never have I heard Rifkin's argument better made (far better than HE ever made it). I will always still reach preferentially for Gardiner or Suzuki (or even the majestic old Klemperer, which taught me to love the work), but there are individual solo movements here that are jewel-like in their excellence, and I will go back to those with pleasure.

And of course folk who like the Rifkin approach will absolutely love this.
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Location: Switzerland

Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,141