The sound world of Bach’s last great Mass has changed radically in recent decades; one-to-a-part performance practice is, as conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen puts it, “changing our entire notion of Bach’s acoustic universe”. This bold claim is amply proven in an account of dazzling transparency, dance-like rhythms and utter clarity. Sometimes the balance seems not quite right, for example when organ continuo dominates, but some superb ensemble numbers pit voices against virtuosic instruments so each seems to outdo the other in joyous exuberance. The five soloists complement each other well, and the addition of just five extra singers is all that is needed to explode Bach’s universal vision into life.
The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists are renowned of their spectacular performances of Bach’s epic masterpiece, which they have toured extensively. During their last tour (in Munich, Frankfurt, Lucerne, Aix-en-Provence and Paris) there was a stampede for tickets and they performed every night in full houses, to spellbound audiences. This album is the culmination of the tour: it was recorded in an open session in London, and captures the special atmosphere of the concerts. It is presented in a 2-CD casebook and contains a booklet featuring original notes by John Eliot Gardiner translated in English, German and French.
Like music lovers the world over, John Nelson believes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor is a pinnacle of Western music. For years, he has cherished the dream of performing this masterwork in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris whose renown has grown constantly since he began conducting with them eight years ago. In addition to John Nelson and his Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, the Mass in B minor brings together the Maîtrise de Notre-Dame choir conducted by Nicole Corti as well as internationally recognized soloists Ruth Ziesak (soprano), Joyce DiDonato (mezzo), Daniel Taylor (alto), Paul Agnew (tenor) and Dietrich Henschel (baritone).
There are three Eugene Jochum recordings of the Mass in B minor floating around out there: this is the first and oldest. Jochum's reading is generally even-paced and flows easily. He avoids the stateliness of Klemperer's reading (a Deutsche Grammophon reissue) but does not fly by the listener in a mad rush as do Pearlman and Gardiner–overall, this is, in a word, a very solid and respectable performance. Jochum's choral forces are large (HUGE if you're used to the "one voice per part" approach) and at their fullest (such as the opening "Kyrie") the choirs and orchestra combined can generate a respectably powerful sound, despite the age of the recording. The soloists are all uniformly good, if not the most outstanding singers in the world. There are slight balance issues in spots, notably the "Domine Deus" duet between soprano and tenor soloists: the soprano overpowers the tenor almost entirely throughout the movement.
The Dunedin Consort’s recording of Bach’s Mass in B Minor revisits the spectacular individual virtuosity that made the Messiah recording so successful. This is the premiere recording of the work in the new Breitkopf edition, edited by Joshua Rifkin, a leading thinker in authentic period performance, who fully endorses John Butt’s interpretation. Bach’s Mass capitalizes on the very essence of the group’s skills: skilled virtuosic choral performance coupled with outstanding, characterful solo singing.
"…Many excellent recordings of this monumental work cater for different tastes and priorities. Some have more consistent line-ups of soloists, equally impressive choirs (of varying sizes) and comparably strong artistic direction. Although an excellent one voice-per-part version is nothing new, Butt's insightful direction and scholarship, integrated with the Dunedin's extremely accomplished instrumental playing and consort singing, amount to an enthralling and revelatory collective interpretation of the Mass in B minor - perhaps the most probing since Andrew Parrott's explosive 1985 version" ~Grammophone
In 1962, Walter Legge invited Klemperer to make a recording of Bach's Mass in B minor for EMI. Although the Mass was a work that Klemperer was strongly drawn to, he nonetheless declined the offer. He was reluctant to conduct the work using the vast forces that were typically employed for performances as he believed it should be performed with numbers similar to those that Bach would have envisaged. Several years later he proposed a recording of the piece using "authentic" forces of a choir of 48 and under 50 instrumentalists - hence this recording.