Philippe Herreweghe's second recording of Bach's radiant Mass in b minor (MBM), made in 1998 for Harmonia Mundi, has been my most played recording of my favorite choral work for over a decade. I could not imagine how he could possibly better himself when this recording was announced.
When it arrived the first distinguishing mark that immediately raised my expectations was the recording location - the Jesus-Christus Kirche in Berlin. The conductor/choral director, who has total control of the new semi private Phi label that is dedicated to Herreweghe's ensembles and artists, hauled his forces from Belgium to Germany and likely paid considerable fees to use the facility. That alone should clue everyone in regarding how serious Herreweghe is about making recordings that are lasting testaments to his legacy.
And the listening experience confirms that is truly a MBM to be cherished with the very best. Herreweghe was first a choral conductor, and his Bach performances reflect that heritage - the ensemble singing is unmatched elsewhere. The same can be said for the soloists in duets, trios, etc. Herreweghe knows how to unify artits, and this carries through to the orchestra as well.
Herreweghe's two previous recordings of the MBM, the one mentioned above and a 1988 recording, displayed the same strengths. But the quality of this new recording on Phi that sets it part is the audio. The venue is one of the best in the whole world, as fans of von Karajan can readily attest. Just enough reverb to give the listener some sense of location, but not cavernous. Microphone placement is outstanding. Soloists are clearly discernable from each other, as are the different sections of the chorus, but they still blend remarkably well too.
Highest possible recommendations!!!!!