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Bach: Mass in B minor - Konrad Junghänel

Bach: Mass in B minor - Konrad Junghänel

Harmonia Mundi  HMC 801813/14 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Bach: Mass in B minor BWV 232

Cantus Cölln
Konrad Junghänel


Performance with solo voices, which has become the trademark of Cantus Cölln, should not be seen as a dogmatic position in this version of the B minor Mass, but as an alternative style of interpretation. It allows the often extremely complicated contrapuntal web of Bach's polyphonic style to be presented with great clarity. Hence it becomes possible to hear interrelations that are usually drowned in generalised sonic exhilaration. In such movements as the ‘Et incarnates' and the ‘Crucifixus' the personal emotional statement becomes much more individual and striking. What is more, the altered performing conditions result in new, unexpected and surprising balances and sonorities.

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Review by John Broggio - March 4, 2006

On the back of the set, Konrad Junghänel states that "Performance with solo voice, which has become the trademark of Cantus Cölln, should not be seen as a dogmatic position in this version of the B minor Mass, but as an alternative style of interpretation. It allows the often extremely complicated contrapuntal web of Bach's polyphonic style to be presented with great clarity. Hence it becomes possible to hear interrelations that are usually drowned in generalised sonic exhilaration. In such movements as the 'Et incarnatus' and the 'Crucifixus' the personal emotional statement becomes much more individual and striking. What is more, the altered performing conditions result in new, unexpected and surprising balances and sonorities." This immediately rang warning bells - could I cope without a "proper" chorus to distinguish between solo and choral sections? Also, would I want to hear "surprising balances and sonorities"?

Fortunately for my ears and sensibilities, Junghänel is accurate in that the performance is not at all dogmatic (providing one can accept 2 voices per part for the "choral" sections) and the polyphony is very clear indeed without being undernourished. This is mainly due to a group of singers who are easily the equal of Gardiner's superb Monteverdi Choir; the instrumentalists are also extremely sensitive players and a convincing blend of textures is beautifully realised by all concerned. Interestingly, the speeds of Gardiner and Junghänel are fairly consistent with the odd change in emphasis here or there - neither is consistently faster than the other. Despite the reduced number of vocal participants, the singing is wonderful with no hint of strain apparent at any time (as an aside, the Monteverdi Choir for Gardiner is even more amazing as they have the same clarity of diction despite vastly superior numbers!) The orchestral playing matches the beauty of the singing whilst retaining the clarity that "old" instruments bring to textures.

This is a very emotional reading which swings from lament to wonder to outright joyous celebration without so much as a dropping of the proverbial hat. The one slight reservation I have is the recording, which for some inexplicable reason is mastered at the highest level of any acoustic music I possess on SACD. Apart from this, the recording is very fine and a photo on the back of the notes shows how the singers are placed centrally with the orchestra spread out in a wide arc (with timpani behind Junghänel on his RH side) and the MCH layer accurately reflects this without a trace of spotlighting.

I cannot imagine a more convincing case for minimal numbers of singers per part than this release [though there a few moments when one wished for slightly more weight] and I would urge those who would normally resist HIP to give in to temptation! Compared to Gardiner's classic account, Junghänel does not encourage as much extroverted playing from orchestral soloists so that the textures are arguably more unified in execution than under Gardiner. I cannot stop (re)playing this superb set and thoroughly recommend it to one and all.

(Purchased)

Copyright © 2006 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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