Bach: Mass in B minor

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Glossa
WORKS: Mass in B minor, BWV 232
PERFORMER: Dorothee Mields, Johannette Zomer (soprano), Patrick van Goethem (alto), Jan Kobow (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass); Capella Amsterdam; Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century/Frans Brüggen
CATALOGUE NO: GCD 921112

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Exactly 20 years has elapsed since Frans Brüggen made his first live recording of the B minor Mass in Utrecht, in 1989. The new one, also recorded live, was made in Warsaw in March 2009 with a similarly sized choir (27 voices) to the other.

Brüggen himself feels the piece much as he did two decades ago; however I prefer the choral balance of Cappella Amsterdam to that of the Netherlands Chamber Choir in the earlier recording. The voices are more forwardly positioned in the new version. 

That said, I find the present performance disappointing. The choir sounds laboured in the opening Kyrie eleison and instrumental support is not always secure. Neither here nor elsewhere in the Mass can we hear the unanimity of intent, vocal and instrumental, with which Frieder Bernius and the Stuttgart Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra imbue their almost uniformly fine recording. Brüggen’s choral textures are too often muddy and tuning wayward.

The Gloria does spring to life, but I am left with the impression that all is underprepared and rhythmically earthbound, as in the ‘Et in terra pax’. What enjoyable moments there are belong mainly to solo numbers where Dorothee Mields, Johannette Zomer, Jan Kobow and Peter Kooij, with the various obbligatists, save the day, or at least some of it.

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Patrick van Goethem gives a decent if expressively detached account of the Agnus Dei, but Mields and Kobow, with a limpid solo flute, give a well-sustained and gracefully articulated ‘Domine Deus’ providing one of the few highlights of a performance which seldom reaches expectation. Nicholas Anderson