CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Briefly Noted: New B Minor Mass from René Jacobs

available at Amazon
Bach, Mass in B Minor, R. Johannsen, M.-C. Chappuis, H. Rasker, S. Kohlhepp, C. Immler, RIAS Kammerchor, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, R. Jacobs

(released on May 13, 2022)
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902676.77 | 1h44
René Jacobs, the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, and the RIAS Kammerchor made a recording of Bach's B Minor Mass in the 1990s. It was a fine interpretation, featuring solo work from Hillevi Martinpelto, Bernarda Fink, Matthias Goerne, Axel Köhler, and Christoph Prégardien, backed up by a large complement of choral singers. Last year, Jacobs came back to this monumental score, second among Bach's achievements only to the St. Matthew Passion, in a new recording made at the Bürgerhaus in Neuenhagen bei Berlin, released last month on the Harmonia Mundi label.

Jacobs has drawn his ideas for this new interpretation from an article by musicologist and church musician Wilhelm Ehmann (an essay called ‘Concertisten’ und ‘Ripienisten’ in der h-Moll-Messe Joh. Seb. Bachs, published in 1960). As Jacobs puts it in a booklet essay, "Ehmann argued that Bach’s ideal in his choral works was a ‘vocal concerto’, that is, an alternating juxtaposition of the full choral sonority (ripieno) and a small group of soloists (concertino)."

To realize this concept, Jacobs gives the large choral sections to the entire RIAS Kammerchor (29 singers), contrasting that sound with sections for a small choir within the choir (15 singers). The quintet of soloists, all current or former choral singers, handles the solo and duet movements, as well as some of the complete choral sections, like the intimate "Et incarnatus est" and "Crucifixus," and a few passages within the large choral sections. The effect is a pleasing increase in the variety of choral textures across what is a rather long work. (Raphaël Pichon and Pygmalion used a similar approach in their new recording of the St. Matthew Passion, although Pichon's soloists also sang with the chorus.)

Jacobs has sped up his tempos in several movements, noticeable from the opening Kyrie movement, choices that shave about six minutes off the total duration. Much of that time difference may come in the Sanctus, taken at breakneck speed, about twice as fast as his previous interpretation. That being said, Jacobs is not the sort to go for HIP speed all the time: the gently flowing "Et in terra pax" movement in the Gloria is very calm, just not as slow as his old recording.

All five soloists are excellent, especially in combinations, particularly the treble voices (Robin Johannsen, Marie-Claude Chappuis, and Helena Rasker) and the impeccably light tenor of Sebastian Kohlhepp, ideal for Bach. The instrumental contributions are equally fine, with a more diverse continuo sound, organ with prominent lute from Michael Freimuth mixed in to pleasing effect. Christoph Huntgeburth and Laure Mourot give the two flauti traversi a wonderful, breathy sound, featured unusually in the parts retrofitted to the "Cum sancto spiritu" fugue of the Gloria (added by Bach when he adapted the piece in his Christmas cantata Gloria in excelsis deo).

Margherita Lulli gives a rustic touch to the corno da caccia part in the "Quoniam tu solus sanctus," and the three natural trumpets and timpani add regal dignity to the largest movements. Perhaps in a nod to the nickname of the piece in the time even of Bach's sons ("‘Die große catholische Messe"), Jacobs opts in this version for the Roman pronunciation of the Latin Ordinary.

No comments: