Bach, Missa (1733),
N.Harnoncourt / Concentus musicus Wien et al.
Warner Classics 2564-69057
(Teldec, Das Alte Werk) [54:26]
Why, then, do we need a recording of Bach’s Missa? Completism, that’s why. Good enough a reason for me. If not for you, there is no reason to read on. Harnoncourt’s recording offers nothing (except the sweet aural scents of nostalgia for those early “Das Alte Werk” releases) that will transcend the limited initial appeal the Missa has in an age burgeoning with great ‘complete’ recordings. The vibrato of the female voices (Rotraud Hansmann, Emiko Iiyama, Helen Watts) isn’t at all conforming to our current understanding and expectations of historically informed performances. And the playing of the orchestra, especially the brass, conforms only to our stereotypical negative expectations of it. HIP orchestras—Harnoncourt’s Concentus musicus Wien not the least—have come a long, long way since those days. I have always liked Harnoncourt’s idea of using a boys’ choir (one of the best available, at that). Unfortunately the idea is nicer than the intonation-ambiguous result.
Those not reared on Harnoncourt (or not interested in the Missa-only) but curious about his seminal recordings for Teldec’s Das Alte Werk are better off with a recording of a favorite cantata from his cycle. The rest can safely stick to their Mass in B minor of choice—mine currently being Karl Richter, Jos van Veldhoven, and Marc Minkowski.