Lent

Since you can't go to Mass today...

(I think this is relevant to all Christians, not only Catholics but at least those whose communions have a liturgy, and worth the attention of those who don't. Or for that matter anyone who cares about the Western musical and spiritual tradition.)

Since you can't go to Mass today, probably, allow me to suggest that you listen to one of the great musical settings of the Latin Mass. One of my Lenten things this year--I can't truly call it much of a penance, but "discipline" is justifiable--is to confine my listening to sacred music. So far that's mostly been settings of the Mass, and, if you do this attentively--not just playing it in the background while you cook or wash the dishes or something--it's more or less inevitable that you will attend very carefully to the words and reflect on them.

So far I've mainly spent time with Bach's Mass in B-Minor, which of course I had heard before, having bought one recording way back in the late '60s (I think) and another in the '80s,  but never really gotten to know. It takes a bit of effort, as the work is something of a monster. It requires somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours to perform, depending on the conductor, and was never performed in Bach's lifetime. And if you're like me you may have trouble listening to two straight hours of non-operatic music (opera has a plot, and characters). But that's ok. The Kyrie and Gloria together run well over half an hour, the Credo most of a half-hour. And each of those sections is a complete musical work as well as theological statement.

My two recordings are pretty much opposite interpretations. You can gather that from the running times: two hours and fifteen minutes for one, an hour and forty-five for the other. The slow one is the one I bought when I was in college: Otto Klemperer, the BBC Chorus, the New Philharmonia Orchestra, and an all-star group of vocal soloists including Janet Baker. The faster one is John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, the English Baroque Soloists, and vocal soloists whose names I don't recognize (not that that means much, except that they aren't superstars). (I don't know why an orchestra calls itself "Soloists".) 

The Klemperer is rich and majestic. The Gardiner is clear and lively. The former is, to speak very loosely, more or less in the more or less romantic tradition of Bach performance, while the latter is pretty much a textbook example of what's called the "HIP" approach--Historically Informed Performance.  (You can read about it at Wikipedia.) I think the two camps have at times been at war over the past several decades. I know some traditionalists hate the thinner, drier sound of period instruments, and some HIPsters mock the grandiosity of Mahler-ready orchestras and choruses applied to 18th century music. 

But I am very happy to have both these recordings. Very happy indeed. The traditional recording brings greater depth (in every sense) to some parts, but the big powerful choir and orchestra sometimes overwhelm the counterpoint or just seem inappropriate, too much. The HIP one is wonderfully clear, but the more somber, heavier parts have less emotional power. 

Thanks to YouTube, you can compare them for yourself. Yesterday I listened to the Laudate section of the Gloria four times, twice in each version. (The work is so massive that each idea or sentence in the text gets its own separate composition.) And I really like both. This is one part where there is, to my taste, no definite preference. I really like the light, bright quality of the Gardiner. The singer, compared to Janet Baker, sounds almost girlish, which for this section is appropriate, as is the sprightly tempo. But the violin obbligato, which is beautiful in the Klemperer, is anemic in the Gardiner. And so on.

I'm speaking as if you only have to take your recording off the shelf and put it on. But if you don't own one maybe you subscribe to one of the streaming music services. Or you can listen to one of the many recordings, whole or partial, that seem to be available on YouTube. If your knowledge of the Latin texts is no better than mine, and you don't own a recording which would typically include the texts, you'll probably need something you can read. You could start here and find the parts.