Bach: Mass in B minor

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Arts
WORKS: Mass in B minor
PERFORMER: Roberta Invernizzi, Lynne Dawson (soprano), Gloria Banditelli (contralto), Christoph Prégardien (tenor), Klaus Mertens (bass); Swiss Radio Chorus, Lugano, Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca/ Diego Fasolis
CATALOGUE NO: 47525-2
It seems certain that Bach never heard his B minor Mass in its entirety. Some scholars have argued that he did not intend it to be performed as a single, complete work. Certainly its huge scale and its non-adherence to either Lutheran or Catholic liturgical practice made it unsuitable for use in church, while its astonishing variety of styles and extensive use of parody have led to suggestions that Bach compiled the Mass as a ‘specimen book’ of his finest sacred vocal writing to bequeath to posterity. However plausible these conjectures, we continue to perform the Mass in toto, and hearing it so has persuaded many listeners that its disparate parts do cohere into a moving and meaningful whole. The chief strength of John Eliot Gardiner’s magnificent 1985 recording (apart from the general excellence of the performances) is that his skilful pacing imparts a dramatic flow to the music that helps to unify its colourful array of styles and forms.

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Diego Fasolis’s new recording offers a stellar line-up of soloists in good voice, but also has several drawbacks. Recorded live in Lugano’s San Lorenzo Cathedral, its main liability is the rather murky, boomy acoustics that prohibit clarity of detail. The bright, transparent textures you’d expect from a small chorus and small orchestra are lost in an homogenised sound that does neither any favours. The obbligato instrumentalists also sound tentative and Fasolis’s choice of tempo can seem suspect – the Sanctus and Benedictus are rushed, the ‘Confiteor’ curiously sluggish. Despite the price, a doubtful bargain. Graham Lock