Bach: Mass in B minor BWV 232

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LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Mass in B minor BWV 232
PERFORMER: Nancy Argenta, Catherine Denley, Mark Tucker, Stephen VarcoeCollegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
With over 20 recordings of the Mass in B Minor currently available – the earliest from 1929, the largest grotesquely overblown, the smallest simply chamber music – Hickox and Collegium Musicum 90 justify another by their stylishness and lack of gimmickry.


Among the soloists, the tonal contrast of Nancy Argenta and Catherine Denley gives a delightful independence of lines in their two duets, though Denley alone sounds a touch forced and anxious, notably in ‘Qui sedes’. Varcoe’s baritone quality produces flawless clarity in ‘Quoniam’, and a special plaudit for Anthony Halstead’s horn playing here – remarkably even-toned without sacrificing the expressiveness produced by hand-stopped notes.

The proportions are ideal: 13 strings, carefully balanced wind, and just 24 singers. Their voices are fresh and light in the Kyrie fugue, sensitive to the agonised dissonances of ‘Et incarnatus’, athletic enough to throw off the mercilessly instrumental lines of ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’.


The sound is good, apart from occasional hard string tone and the assertive sibilants of German Latin. We sit some way down the nave of St Jude’s Church, London. It’s reverberant, yet doesn’t obscure the textures as Hickox points entries, lifts phrase ends, clarifying the sometimes extraordinary density – up to ten real parts – of this pinnacle of the German Baroque. George Pratt