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Mass in B Minor, BWV 232 [106.24]
CD 1 [51.25]

CD 2 [54.59]
Osanna, Benedictus, Osanna, Agnus Dei, Dona Nobis Pacem

Catherine Dubosc, soprano I
Catherine Denley, soprano II
James Bowman, alto
John Mark Ainsley, tenor
Michael George, bass
The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra, Harry Christophers
Rec: no date or location given but 1980s?
REGIS RRC 2002 [106.24]

Bach's B minor mass, his last major work, was written over a long period. Begun around 1733, the first two sections, the Kyrie and Gloria, make up an early version of the work that may or may not have ever been performed. Bach then added additional sections to the work in the 1740s, and only finalized it near the end of his life. Much of this work is 'parodies', movements taken from other works, mostly cantatas, and it was never performed in his lifetime.

This very popular work is one of Bach's most accessible large vocal works, more so than the passions. This work features many movements for chorus and double chorus, and, compared with the passions, relatively few arias and duets (only 9 out of 27 parts), and also has no recitatives.

The tension of the opening chord, sung by the entire chorus, sets the tone for this mystical work. Bach wrote some of his most profound melodies for this work, and the amazing texture of the choir's counterpoint is perhaps his greatest achievement in choral music.

This recording is a fine version of the work - the choir, which is fairly large at 26 singers (whereas some recordings in recent years have used much smaller groups) is nevertheless of a size that allows the individual voices to stand out in the choral melange. The instrumentalist also play in perfect balance with the choir - the obbligato instruments fit perfectly with the vocal texture, and the overall sound of the orchestra is excellent.

The arias are of varying quality - in the duet which is the second part of the Kyrie, the two sopranos use a bit too much vibrato, which conflicts with the fluid sound of the instruments behind them. The beautiful aria with violin obbligato, Laudamus te, is another disappointment, as soprano Catherine Denley again uses too much vibrato, which fits poorly with the rapid notes of this section. She has a fine voice, but her style does not fit the music. James Bowman, however, rises to the occasion with his two arias, one in the Gloria, Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris, and the second the Agnus Dei, the penultimate section of the work. The latter is played a slower tempo than many other recordings, and this highlights the pleading nature of this section.

The orchestra shines in such sections as the beginning of the Gloria, with its opening featuring horns and timpani. It carries the choir along perfectly, with great joy and energy.

This is a fine recording, with a beautifully sounding choir, and excellent orchestra. While some of the arias and duets are slightly lacking in quality - the soloists are not all in top form - this budget recording is excellent value.

Kirk McElhearn

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