Mass in B minor
Barbara Bonney (soprano)
Danila Donose (mezzo-soprano)
Maria Ruxandra (mezzo-soprano)
Cornelia Wulkopf (contralto)
Peter Schreier (tenor)
Yaron Windmüller (bass)
Bach-Chor der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz (Joshard Daus, chorus master)
Munich Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded live on 18 November 1990 in the Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich
Reviewed by: William Yeoman
Reviewed: April 2005
CD No: EMI 5578442 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 8 minutes
According to the booklet note accompanying this release, Sergiu Celibidache, who never marked his scores, in this instance provided the conductor of the chorus on this recording, Joshard Daus, with a study score revealing his conception of the piece: “tied notes, bowing styles, dynamics, tone-colour, which parts should be given priority over others, everything down to the smallest detail was marked systematically and clearly, in several different colours”. This reminds of Rosalyn Tureck’s appreciation of Bach: the simultaneous awareness of every level of the music, how each note and every phrase inflects the whole. Celibidache’s architectural approach is akin to a structure in sound and space being built.
What, then, does Celibidache infer from Bach’s score, armed as he was with a good working knowledge of authentic-performance practice and the strength of his own convictions? That to reveal Bach’s musical structures with clarity and honesty is to reveal the underlying humanity – and that this is really the only ‘authenticity’ worth having. Throughout, the orchestral and choral forces provide a delicately undulating landscape out of which the ‘protagonists’ – the vocal and instrumental soloists – emerge to make their contributions with an expressive urgency that is often missing from many ‘period’ performances.
I found the “Benedictus qui venit” and the “Agnus Dei” particularly moving: in the one, Peter Schreier (a veteran in this music and still sounding wonderful in 1990 if a little strained in the higher register) is complemented by some beautiful flute and cello playing; in the other Cornelia Wulkopf’s generous vibrato sometimes militates against the transparent, and vibrato-less, strings, but makes up for it with a touching emotional sincerity.
The chorus is generally impressive despite an occasional lack of energy and the scaled-down orchestra, together with harpsichord continuo, is responsive and very adaptable to the requirements of Bach’s idiom. The spacious and majestic “Kyrie” never loses clarity; the closing “Dona nobis pacem”, like the “Gratias agimus tibi” that uses the same music, has a wonderful cumulative effect, and yet the entry of the trumpets and timpani amid the flowing lines of voices and strings is accomplished without bombast.
This (analogue) recording, which is superb in quality, is a moving document of Celibidache’s art, a performance of Bach’s monumental B minor Mass that is wholly in accordance with the conductor’s ideas about time and acoustics. It is revelatory in many ways, and requires much from, and gives much to, the listener.