> BACH B minor Mass Rilling [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Mass in B Minor BWV 232
Sibylla Rubens, soprano
Juliane Banse, soprano
Ingeborg Danz, alto
James Taylor, tenor
Andreas Schmidt, bass
Thomas Quasthoff, bass
Gächinger Kantorei
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, Helmut Rilling
Rec: March 1999, Stadthalle Sindelfingen.
HÄNSSLER 92.070 [112.34]



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Those familiar with Helmut Rilling’s recordings of Bach’s sacred cantatas, also on Hänssler, will not at all be surprised at the tone and colours of this recording of Bach’s masterpiece, the B Minor Mass. Rilling is true to his usual approach, that of using modern instruments, though the size of his choir (30 singers) is more restrained than many modern recordings. His performances of Bach’s sacred music have generally been quite different from such historically-informed performers as Gustav Leonhardt or Joshua Rifkin, whose recordings of this work stand as landmarks. However, he points out that he decided, for this recording, to use a "chamber music ensemble", and, as always, uses an organ for continuo. (Note that this is Rilling’s fourth recording of the work, and that he has certainly examined it more than many conductors, even writing a book on it.)

Rilling begins with a very slow Kyrie; at over 11 minutes, it is some two minutes longer than both Leonhardt and Rifkin. He is clearly looking for affekt above all; and he obtains it. The lush, full sound of the choir, combined with the slow progression of the melody, carries the listener away into the profound religious sentiment that this work expresses. Rilling does not, however, maintain these slow tempi throughout the work; overall, the timing of this performance matches those of the two HIP recordings mentioned above. But these tempi can be a bit disturbing. The slow, almost ponderous tone of the Kyrie eleison gives way to a joyfully rapid Gloria, and the contrast between these two movements is somewhat jarring. In a way, the energy the Gloria expresses sounds more real than the density of the movements played at a slower tempo.

The soloists are all very good - soprano Juliane Banse is excellent in the Laudamus te, but the other soprano, Sibylla Rubens, does not have the same presence, and seems a bit in the background in her two duets. Alto Ingeborg Danz is also very moving and her solo, Qui sedes ad dextram Patris, is full of profound emotion. The male singers are just as good, and Thomas Quasthoff has his moment in the limelight in the Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, which he handles with a fine balance of force and grace.

One note about the sound: the quality of this recording is excellent, and one benefits from the magnificent textures apparent when listening on headphones. However, one also hears the hisses of sibilants more clearly, which detracts a bit from the magic.

This is a very satisfying recording. Rilling’s sound here is more agreeable than it is in his cantata recordings, where the strings tend to overpower the music. With excellent sound, competent soloists, and impeccable choral movements, this is one of the finest recordings of the B Minor Mass on modern instruments.

Kirk McElhearn


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