JS Bach

COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Mass in B minor
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson, Rachel Nicholls (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Gerd Türk (tenor), Peter Kooij (bass); Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1701-02
The aura surrounding the B minor Mass has been threatened by the discovery that only one movement, ‘Confiteor’, is indisputably original. All the rest is, or may well be, borrowed from earlier music – clearly explained in a revealing programme note in Suzuki’s new recording. He, however, clearly retains a deep reverence for what most of us still consider the summation and perfection of Bach’s entire lifework. The warm acoustic of the Shoin Women’s University Chapel lends a sheen to the sound and, although 5.1 surround-sound clarifies soloists, choir and instruments by placing them precisely, distance mellows them.

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There’s a fine team of soloists. Carolyn Sampson and Rachel Nicholls are matched but distinctively individual in ‘Christe eleison’, with violins phrasing as if projecting text themselves; Peter Kooij is supported by colourful hand-horn tuning in ‘Quoniam tu solus’; the Collegium’s leader provides a superbly fluent violin obbligato to ‘Laudamus te’. The Agnus Dei is less convincing: beneath the duet of Blaze’s lyrical alto and unison violins, continuo chords are nervously snatched – (Gardiner, still my benchmark 23 years on, places them so lovingly).

The choir is small enough, two/three to a part, to project great clarity and detail – ‘Osanna’ is delightfully exuberant – though elsewhere Suzuki’s tempos are rather deliberate: ‘Peace on earth’ is a leisurely contrast to a sparkling ‘Gloria’.

A great deal to enjoy, and a worthy companion to Suzuki’s on-going Cantata series.

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George Pratt