Herbet Blomstedt conducts Bach’s B Minor Mass at Bachfest 2017

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LABELS: Accentus
WORKS: Mass in B Minor
PERFORMER: Christina Landshamer (soprano), Elisabeth Kulman (alto), Wolfram Lattke (tenor), Luca Pisaroni (bass); Dresdner Kammerchor; Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/ Herbert Blomstedt


Bach’s B minor Mass and Leipzig have long been entwined for conductor Herbert Blomstedt. It was one of the works with which he bade farewell to the city’s Gewandhaus Orchestra when he relinquished the music directorship in 2005 – and the performance recorded at that year’s Leipzig Bachfest is still readily available on DVD. Just weeks before his 90th birthday last summer he returned to the orchestra and to St Thomas’s Church to conclude the 2017 Bachfest with the same work. It’s a present to himself. A labour of love. And an astute combining of two facets of the B minor Mass’s backstory since if the instrumental forces acknowledge a city home to Bach’s last quarter century or so, the Dresdner Kammerchor serves as a reminder that the work started life as a ‘Missa’ calculated to advance Bach’s cause at the Dresden Court. 

Noted for his Bruckner and the big symphonic repertoire, Blomstedt might not at first sight seem an obvious choice as conductor for Bachfest’s finale; but as a near contemporary of Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt, he’s evidently not allergic to the changing face of Baroque performance style over a long lifetime. Come to that the orchestra, in its set of the Christmas Oratorio under Riccardo Chailly, must hold the land-speed record for the opening chorus. 

Unlike Chailly however, Blomstedt is never bent on point- scoring didacticism. His is a truthful account; prayerful, reverential, intent on welding the disparate movements into a caressing, over-arching entity. The opening of the Credo professes a private  faith rather than an expression of the church militant, and a silkily ethereal ‘Et Incarnatus’ yields to a ‘Crucifixus’ that’s unexpectedly serene, avuncular even – though Blomstedt’s scrupulous calibration of the Mass’s final chorus engineers a blaze of magisterial, hope-filled trust. Among the soloists Christina Landshamer and Elisabeth Kulman enthral. 


Paul Riley