Bach: Mass in B minor

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Mass in B minor
PERFORMER: Balthasar Neumann Choir, Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/Thomas Hengelbrock
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77380 2
The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra has made its reputation exploring interesting and unusual foothills of the 17th- and 18th-century repertoire. Here, for the first time on disc, it attempts one of the peaks, and scales it with huge success. Hengelbrock, among the most versatile of young German conductors, takes a highly expressive view of Bach’s many-faceted masterpiece: a very slow opening Kyrie, an almost recklessly exultant Gloria and ‘Et resurrexit’. The mood is varied as necessary, the poignant hesitancy of the ‘Qui tollis’ and Agnus Dei well contrasted with the brilliance of the writing for three trumpets. The singers of the small, but perfectly formed Balthasar Neumann Choir (founded by Hengelbrock in 1991) are well up to the many challenges they face at these speeds. Arias and duets are sung by members of the choir: none is especially characterful, but all are more than adequate.

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The booklet says the recording was made following ‘staged’ performances last year in collaboration with nine actors of the Freyer Ensemble who ‘gave visible character to intellectual concepts and ideas within the work’. No comment – the recording is well worth seeking out for a thrilling account of the music alone. Stephen Maddock