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