Bach; Mass in B minor

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Hanssler
PERFORMER: Marlis Petersen, Stella Doufexis(soprano), Anke Vondung(mezzo-soprano), Lothar Odinius(tenor), Christian Gerhaher,Franz-Josef Selig (bass); GächingerKantorei Stuttgart; Bach-CollegiumStuttgart/Helmuth Rilling

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This mighty work, the ultimate expression in musical terms of Christian belief, can make its surpassing impact in quite a wide variety of interpretations, from the extreme breadth of Otto Klemperer to the dapper but driven account of Roger Norrington.

Conductor Helmuth Rilling, as is his wont, takes a safe course with a moderate-sized choir, which actually sounds a little smaller than it is; and a small orchestra, which is sometimes drowned by the vocal forces.

In matters of tempo it is largely traditional, faster than one would have expected 40 years ago, but unsurprising for today. Phrasing is sometimes quite smooth, occasionally disconcertingly choppy.

This is a performance which few lovers of the work would be made indignant by, but I’m not sure that many listeners will find it as exalting as the greatest accounts that they have previously experienced.

The soloists, a fine team, sing without particular expression: when you think of what the greatest soloists have made of the Agnus Dei, you might wonder whether Anke Vondung, who has a beautiful voice, needs to use it so purely instrumentally.

One can’t help feeling that this should have the quality of a heartfelt prayer rather than just a lovely slow movement. And shouldn’t the sublime ‘Dona nobis pacem’ which concludes the work end more massively?

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This is undeniably a middle-of-the-road performance, with the advantages and disadvantages of that. In Eugen Jochum’s recording, though it may be less ‘authentic’, there is just as much vitality as here. To my mind it has much finer soloists, and a sense not only of artistic but also of religious commitment.