JS Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Mass in B minor, BWV 232
PERFORMER: Sophie Bevan (soprano), Clint Van der Linde (alto), Ben Johnson (tenor), Colin Campbell, Häkan Vramsmo (bass); Rodolfus Choir; Southern Sinfonia/Ralph Allwood


Last August, John Butt’s Dunedin Consort and Players became my ‘benchmark’ recording of Bach’s last and greatest choral work. Now comes a performance with much in common – pace, exuberance, heart-felt commitment – yet so very different. The Rodolfus Choir is also young, students and recently graduated singers, but it includes 40 singers rather than ten.

They’re recorded in an attractively reverberant acoustic, and in stereo rather than SACD. Their denser sound heightens contrasts with solo wind and few strings, though they achieve remarkable facility in fast passagework: I’ve never heard nine basses in such perfect accord in the tortuous ‘Et iterum venturus est’. Ralph Allwood sculpts movements over a long time-span: the suppressed ardour opening the ‘Gratias’ grows gradually to a magnificent climax at the end. Occasionally the scale creates balance problems: for instance, in the first Credo the triumphal violin entry is inaudible. 

The soloists are a fine team. In ‘Domine Deus’, Sophie Bevan and Ben Johnson match perfectly in imitation – ‘Heavenly King’ and ‘Only-begotten Son’ – before Bach’s inspired symbolic uniting of the two in ‘Lamb of God’. The basses are cleverly typecast, Colin Campbell regal in ‘Quoniam’, Häkan Vramsmo lyrical in ‘Et in spiritum sanctum’. Van der Linde’s dark countertenor tone is clean-cut in ‘Laudamus’. Highly recommended. George Pratt