Mass in B minor BWV 232
Conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt
S.W. Anadsgyan wrote (May 5, 2003):
Surprisingly enough I haven't found much comments on Harnoncourt's versions of the Mass in B Minor but someone's preference for his second version.
I have seen the '68 recording in CD format available in Montreal and have contained my eagerness towards this "historical" album for better information gleaning.
He is represented in my collection with the Brandenburg Concertos recorded in '81 and '83 and the SMP from 2000.
What are the pros and the cons of Harnoncourt's versions of BWV 232 ?
Uri Golomb wrote (May 5, 2003):
< Surprisingly enough I haven't found much comments on Harnoncourt's versions of the Mass in B Minor but someone's preference for his second version. >
That might have been me... But it is not an easy subject to discuss. Harnoncourt is a strongly individualist conductor, and his individualism is much more strongly pronounced in the 1986 B minor Mass than in the 1968 version. That's why quite a few reviewers prefer the earlier version -- finding the later one mannered, even eccentric. I understand their views, though I don't share them.
It's difficult to believe, in fact, that the two recordings were by the same conductor. In a technical sense, they're not: In the 1968 version, Harnoncourt played cello, and the conductor was Hans Gillesberger -- who conducted only the choral movements, standing with his back to the orchestra (!) and conducting only the choir. The arias and duets were done with no conductor at all. The ensemble was quite small, many of the members were personal friends of Harnoncourt's (his wife was the first violinist), so Harnoncourt could communicate his interpretation without having to stand on the podium.By 1986, on the other hand, Harnoncourt has just about given up directing
from the cello; and the Mass was conducted from the podium, in the standard fashion (albeit without a baton). Another "external" difference: the choir in 1986 was a mixed choir, as opposed to the boys-and-men choir in 1968.
But these are the main differences. The most imporatnt distinction is that the latter recording is much, much more detailed, filled alike with bold gestures and subtle nuances, both generally missing from the more neutral 1968 recording. The tempi are generally slower, though the faster ones (e.g., the Second Kyrie) remain very fast indeed. The range of articulation and dynamics is much wider. There is something eclectic about Harnoncourt's style, especially in the last 20-25 years: a mixture of what he discovered in period instruments and teh study of BAroque rhetoric on the one hand, with his 18 years of experience playing under some of hte great traditional conductors as a cellist of the Wiener Symphoniker in the 50s and 60s. Not all listeners find this mixture convincing.
I like Harnoncourt's 1986 Mass very much (whereas the 1968 Mass strikes me, for the most part, as dull and inexpressive), but I can't recommend it without warnings and reservations. If you can, try to sample it before purchasing. Try the Crucifixus and Resurrexit. In the Crucifixus, Harnoncourt shapes each of the vocal lines independently -- highlighting the clashes between them; and accents each entry of the ostinato bass, thus re-inforcing the clash between the rhythmic regularity in the orchestra and the freer, more independent phrases in the choir. This, coupled with his relatively slow tempo and general heaviness, creates quite an uneasy amosphere. The he descends to an almost total hush at the end. The Resurrexit emerges in an enormous crescendo -- you can almost see Christ entombed at the end of the Crucifixus, and rising from his grave at the start of the Resurrexit. He then continues with this "wave dynamics" almost throughout the Resurrexit. (In 1968, Harnoncourt adopted a very fast tempo fro the Crucifixus, and left it virtually unshaped; the Resurrexit is nicely elegant, but not very exciting).
Now, I find this performance revelatory and compelling; but other listeners woudl find it mannered, over-romantic, perhaps even ludicrous. My description might give you some idea of what it sounnds like (BTW, I've once given a lecture on this, so I can provide an even more detailed description -- depending on whether readers are interested....), but there's really no alternative to checking it out for yourself. However: If you enjoy his 1980s Brandenburgs, it's quite likely that you'll enjoy the 1986 Mass as well.
I hope this helps.
S.W. Anadsgyan wrote (May 6, 2003):
[To Uri Golomb] Thank you very much Mr Golomb for the thoroughness you have offered in answering my question; it has helped me a lot. Hopefully I'll read more of your take on this particular work once the OVPP Cantus Cölln's recorded version of the Mass in B Minor is available, if not before ... as far as I'm concerned; don't resist that urge!
I shall keep an eye open for the '86 version with Harnoncourt.
S.W. Anadsgyan wrote (June 13, 2003):
This is my pleasant dilemma. I could hardly be specific in being able to describe the different versions of the MBM I currently can enjoy.
I'm listening to the Harnoncourt II and the one thing I can write is BWV 232 I never tire of ...
I haven't come around to take just one section of the musical oeuvre for comparing purposes, I listen to the whole thing and I'm always left with a smile ...
I'm no musicologist, no critic, just a decent bum stretching his discotheque with refinement.
I enjoy reading your posts but alas I feel too "green" to offer more precisions in my impressions.Can I say that the Harnoncourt II is more pungent while Herreweghe II seems more polished ?
No use in trying while I'm still a baby Bach aficionado.
The delight lingers on and on ...
Nikolaus Harnoncourt: Short Biography | Concentus Musicus Wien | Harnoncourt – Glorious Bach! (DVD) | Motets – Harnoncourt | BWV 232 - Harnoncourt | BWV 244 – Harnoncourt | BWV 245 - Harnoncourt-Gillesberger
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt - Recordings: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Harnoncourt & Leonhardt - General Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7
Table of recordings by BWV Number