Bach: Mass in B minor

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Mass in B minor
PERFORMER: Nicole Heaston (soprano), Theodora Hanslowe (mezzo-soprano), Ellen Rabiner (contralto), Mark Tucker (tenor), Nathan Berg (bass-baritone); Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman
One cannot but feel compassion for anyone faced with the prospect of choosing a Bach choral work from the bewildering maze of currently available alternatives. What, for instance, makes this B minor Mass stand out from upwards of 30 versions already out there? The currently fashionable determining factor is that of period instruments versus those of today, with size of performing forces running a close second. Martin Pearlman offers a stylish reading with the period instruments of Boston Baroque and a choir of some 28 voices. Yet, notwithstanding some affecting individual contributions from solo vocalists and obbligato instrumentalists alike, this is a disappointingly lacklustre recording. Pearlman favours long and seamless phrase contours in the Kyrie which, after a while, are rhythmically unclear and, from an inflective standpoint, enervating. Small vocal forces might have been able to convey Pearlman’s concept of this section of the Mass with greater conviction, but instead the overriding effect is one of fatigue. And I was surprised to notice in the opening bars some moments of poor woodwind tuning, uncharacteristic of this habitually well drilled ensemble. No, I’m afraid this version of the B minor Mass is not for me; with a few exceptions – the ‘Domine Deus’ is one – the whole is too lacking in affirmative spirit and seems to struggle too much of the time. Among my recommendations for a period-instrument version with similarly scaled forces are those by Richard Hickox (Chandos), Gustav Leonhardt (BMG), or the earlier of two recordings by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, which includes contralto Helen Watts and tenor Kurt Equiluz among the soloists. Nicholas Anderson