Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Mass in B minor, BWV 232
PERFORMER: Ruth Ziesak, Roberta Alexander (soprano), Jard van Nes (contralto), Keith Lewis (tenor), David Wilson-Johnson (bass-baritone); Bavarian RSO & Chorus/Carlo Maria Giulini
More than most works regularly cited as pinnacles of western music, the B minor Mass is open to vagaries of interpretation. The vogue is for playing fast and flat, reducing forces and stripping the opulence and opaqueness that used to characterise Bach performance.


Giulini goes his own sweet way, which is not quite like anyone else’s. His choir is big – a far cry from the Joshua Rifkin approach of using solo voices in multipart choral writing – and his tempi slow. At least on paper they are slow: this B minor Mass is such a well-measured, coherent vision that even a Sanctus nearly a third longer than other recorded versions makes perfect sense. After all, Giulini is keeping time, not the clock. Indeed, frequently slowness is strength, as the masterly judgement and control of a gradually unwinding ‘Dona nobis pacem’ and a perfectly plotted ‘Qui tollis’ bear witness.


Among the soloists, Roberta Alexander sounds uneasy in a laboured ‘Laudamus te’ where the solo violin’s hesitancy is transmitted to the singer. Top honours go to Ruth Ziesak, faultless throughout. The live recording from Munich’s Herkulessaal is a shade reticent, but chorus and orchestra nonetheless come across as highly responsive and a credit to their maestro. Christopher Wood