J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Mass in B Minor

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Karl Richter
Accompaniment/Orchestra:Munich Bach Orchestra
Soloists:Maria Stader, Sioprano
Herthe Toepper, Alto
Ernst Haeffliger, Tenor
Keith Engen, Bass
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Bass
Individual Works:Mass in B Minor, BWV 232
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Archive Galleria
Catalog Number:427 155-2
Year Released/Recorded:1961
Total Playing Time:2:01:55
Comments:Rich Rosenwald said:

This Recording as 427155 is deleted now (2/3/1999), but luckily it has been re-issued in Europe as DG 463004 as part of the "Bach Meisterwerke" series.

Charles B. Lott said:

Richter has presented us with a performance of the great Mass on a scale so coossal as to be utterly mind-boggling. The high trumpets are crystal-clear; the timpani add monumental thunder to the act of praise, and the Munic Bach Choir is typically superb. If this has not been re-issued on CD's, shame, shame, shame on Deutsche Grammophone (Note: someone submitted the cd catalog number, listed above, so it has been issued - JH). I doubt that anyone (and there are many excellent renditions, will ever match the raw power and sheer magnificence of Richter's effort.

Russ Davis said:

A wonderful recording by the late great Karl Richter and the masterful Munich Bach Choir and orchestra. Richter was a master among the valient in the classical revival who began to seek to rescue Bach and others of the Baroque from Romantic excess and restore the lost brilliance of the Baroque. Aided by his further understanding as a gifted organist, Richter had few peers in his sensitive understanding of Bach's spirit and genius. The only thing one could consider to be missing from this masterful recording would be the lilting tenor of his good friend Peter Schreier, now a respectable conductor in his own right (see his tremendously profound conducting of the St. Matthew Passion, even while singing the demanding role of the Evangelist, recorded by Phillips). It is greatly to be regretted that Deutsche Grammophon has failed to re-release this (Richter's conducting of St. Matthew Passion) on CD.
I had thought that Richter had also recorded this with Schreier as tenor, but my memory may well have failed me in this, and even if it were true I would have no means with which to verify it.

Leonard C. Layne said:

This ismost articulate, moving performance of this work. Don't be deceived by the apparent slow tempo of the opening kyrie. It has the effect of layering the suspensions and building the tension which set the tone for the ensuing architectural structure of the work. The orchestral precision and the clarity of the vocal lines ecen at very fast tempi are nothing short of incredible for a chorus of this size (90 ?). Yet the insight into baroque performance practice comes through, despite the use of modern instruments. The brass choirs, tympani and French horn playing lend a brightness and flair missing from most performances where the older or
reconstructed brass instruments are often out of tune or poorly played, at least in live performances that I have heard. THIS MUSIC HAS BEEN REISUED ON CD !!!

Michael Kim said:

Richter delivers a powerful, impassioned performance of the mass in his first recording for DG Archiv. Others have already lauded the merits of the discs, so I will here list a few reservations I have about this release.

There are some odd things going on here, perhaps representative of an older-style approach to the music of Bach. The phrasing of the choir, especially in fast fugual movements is almost machine-gun like in its separation of notes. Some of this is carried over into the instrumental playing as well, and it can be distressingly distracting. Aside from this, the sound of the chorus is fairly clean and acceptably blended, though one could say that it is young-sounding (those who prefer boy-choirs in this music may actually find this is an improvement; I myself am neutral on this point).

Soloists are generally very fine, although I find Toepper a little too wobbly in tone in her solo sections, especially compared to the even tone produced by Fischer-Dieskau and Haefliger.

Tempos are quick, many times on par with today's performances, with the exception of a mind-bogglingly slow Kyrie I. But you can feel the intensity in every note. The carryover from the Symbolum nicenum to the Sanctus (here, for once, performed without a significant pause between the sections) is perhaps the most thrilling I've ever heard.

Overall, I am very happy to own this recording, and would recommend it, despite the above caveats. Certainly it is one of the most important recordings, historically, and the performance is worthy of its place in history.

Guy Cutting said:

This recording is the best ever made. I'm not supposed to say that, though, so I will qualify it.

Richter: widely considered THE authority on the interpretation of Baroque music, his expertise shows through in this recording. He manages to capture the brilliance of the Baroque and of Bach himself. He knows just how to derive the greatest effect from the work. The tempos are wonderful. All are, with the exception of the opening Kyrie, immediately most satisfying. But the tempo of the Kyrie, which I couldn't like more, truly builds up the force needed for later movements.

Orchestra: The orchestra is equally brilliant, conveying the glory of God the Father in His supreme mastery. The violins express a soulfulness many consider lost since the time of Richter and his peers. The trumpets truly express the splendor of God, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. They are unmatched by any other recording. The thunderous timpani's also contribute to the act of praise.

Some have pointed out the staccato seperation of notes by the orchestra. I must admit that I myself noticed as much, and it was a little distracting. It does little to detract from the scale of the work, though. Richter, God bless him, did not fall prey to what my piano teacher and good friend Harald Rohlig calls "the cult of authenticity". The instruments used are/were modern, but yet they still capture the brilliance of Baroque while recognizing the influence of 19th century romanticism.

Choir: The word of the day is "brilliant". The choir expresses the same awesome glory as the orchestra, a glory which I must say was what Bach himself intended. They truly communicate with passion a praise of the Holy God. The sound produced by the females, one which is almost boyish, is both pleasing and consistent with the intent of the master Bach himself. It captures the authenticity of the baroque while offering the technical experience of mature adults.

The choir is a little large, though(50). Rohlig and I agree that, say, 26 voices might be more reasonable. In fact, Karl and Harald used to argue about the subject. But despite the size, the choral sound remains very transparent, for the most part. Even in complex sequences such as the KyrieI, Cum Sancto Spiritu, Crucifixus, and Et resurrexit, the 5 parts are kept distinct from one another, although its size is at some points readily apparent, if you know what I mean =). The precision and the technical mastery of the choir truly convey the splendor of heaven and the glory of God's supreme mastery.

The only flaw I have noticed in the choir is the pronunciation of the Latin. In particular the "e"'s are disparate from how I have been trained to pronounce them. But this foible, which I have not heard anyone else mention, is insignificant in the big picture.

Many have mentioned difficulty finding this recording. First and foremost, realize that this is not the 1969 recording done live for Japanese television. Check the catalog number before you buy. I have found three sources for this recording. First is CDMail, in France. The link is on this site. Shipping can be expensive, but their prices are good. They don't keep stock, which is good for you because they can order the recording directly from DG more quickly than most stores can restock and fill backorder. The second source is Brodt Music. I don't think they have an Internet site. But, they have over 750,000 records, good prices, and quick shipping so it is worth while. The last source is CDNow. They have an Internet site. Their price is good, but it is hardly ever in stock and their backorder time is severe. Buy this recording.

Ron Thomsen said:

Karl Richter certainly has his strong points. However, I find it too intellectual and a bit sterile, a style that might work with 12-tone music. I prefer a style that is a little more cheerful, with slightly slower tempos.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • Charles B. Lott
  • Russ Davis
  • Leonard C. Layne
  • Michael Kim
  • Rich Rosenwald
  • Ron Thomsen
Date First Submitted:07/04/1998