Mass in B minor
Robin Johannsen (soprano), Marie-Claude Chappuis (mezzo-soprano), Helena Rasker (alto), Sebastian Kohlhepp (tenor), Christian Immler (bass-baritone); RIAS Kammerchor; Akademie für Alte Musik/René Jacobs
Harmonia Mundi HMM 902676.77 96:14 mins (2 discs)
For his recording of Bach’s opus ultimum, René Jacobs explains his conception of the work as a vocal concerto grosso, in which alternating juxtapositions of full choral sonority, or ripieno, occur with smaller groups of soloists, or concertino. The idea is a development of one by Wilhelm Ehmann, a noted scholar and performer of Bach’s vocal music during the 1950s and 1960s.
Readers familiar with Jacobs’s performances will not be disappointed by the graceful phrasing and light rhythmic pulse which characterise his approach to Bach’s music. His soloists are thoughtfully chosen and make considerable appeal. Robin Johannsen has an established reputation as an interpreter of Baroque repertoire, and her Dominus Deus with Sebastian Kohlhepp is brisk, airily articulated and evenly balanced. The vocal timbre of Marie-Claude Chappuis brings warmth and clarity to the Laudamus te, but the Qui tollis peccator mundi, entrusted to four soloists lacks gravitas. Helena Rasker gives an evenly controlled account of Qui sedes and Agnus Dei and Christian Immler is effective in the Quoniam. The Crucifixus, allotted to a quartet of soloists is poignant.
At its best, the RIAS Kammerchor is vibrant, but sections of the Et in terra pax, the Credo and Confiteor sound tonally insecure. The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin is supportive with fine contributions from leader Bernhard Forck and oboists Xenia Löffler and Michael Bosch. The recording is dedicated to Bernard Coutaz, founder of Harmonia Mundi in 1958, and his wife Eva who was the label’s artistic director for almost 40 years. We too, owe them a debt of gratitude.