It is true that the Mass in B-Minor has rather been "taken out of the church." Doubtless, it is a great work that requires virtuosity of all it's performers, but therefore, it is easy for a recording of the Mass in B-Minor to lose it sacred feel. Take, for instance, the recording of the Mass by John Elliot Gardiner: a fine recording, but the oversized, vibrato heavy chorus and bombastic exectution might leave you less then awed.
Leave it to Philippe Herreweghe and his fine choir, instrumentalists, and soloists to surpass any recording of this work made. When Bach composed this mass near the end of his life (about 1748), he recycled his best works from his long, illustrious career. Some of these works went as far back as 1714. These recycled works were "tweaked" more or less for improvements, and so most of the Mass in B minor is actually Bach's compendium of what he thought were the highlights of his career.
And what better way to show-off Bach's pinnacle work than with Herreweghe and the Collegium Vocale! Never using more than 5 singers per part, the choir is uniform. It is a large-sounding choir and their diction is clear as a bell and each line can be heard. The "Patrem omnipotentem factorem coeli et terrae," (Bach's reworked version of cantata #171) is an exciting rendition, as are the other choruses.
The sopranos and altos (not including the male altos) in the Collegium Vocale are especially boyish sounding, a good quality for a Bach choral work, sounding closer to what Bach had in mind for his own boy choir in St. Thomas Church in Leipzig. Their voices are not vibrato-heavy, making the sound of the choir more appealingly antique and smooth.
The church-like resonance of the recording gives the Mass it's sacred atmosphere that other recordings lack. Harmonia Mundi's sound recording quality ranks the label as one of the most loved among classical music listeners.
The orchestra is similarly fine. But the real treasure is the soloists. Herreweghe's recordings always boast the some of the finest young soloists of this generation, and this record is no exception.
Bach never heard his peerless Mass in B-Minor during his lifetime. But Herreweghe has sure done Mr. Bach proud. Strongly reccomended.