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on 17 January 2005
There are some pieces you can get away with getting cheap recordings of, but when it comes to the monolothic Mass in B Minor I think it's well worth spending a few extra quid to get a good recording - or in this case, a near flawless one.
This massive, complex and enormously inflential work commands so much respect, it must be terrifying to perform it, but Gardiner's team certainly pulls it off brilliantly. Don't be put off by the authentic instruments aspect of this recording - Gardiner doesn't fall into the trap that so many other authentic instrument conductors seem to fall into: taking the pieces at breakneck speed. The speeds certainly aren't slow, but never feel rushed either. Also, despite being quite a small choir the Monteverdi's sound is very impressive.
Finally, the all-important solo and duet arias are all executed flawlessly - especially my particular favourites the almost unbearably melancholy Agnus Dei and strangely bittersweet Domine Deus. Seriously bordering on perfection here!
This CD set also comes with some very in-depth and insightful liner notes, useful to set the work in context and explain its idiosyncracies etc.
So, yes, it may be quite expensive, but with a work of art like this, why settle for anything less?
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 15 February 2009
The Choral singing is stunning and glorious, unfortunately the soloists are not at the same level (sometimes unbelievably the quality is without real feeling or technical perfection or good tone color, in the soloist parts). The overall feeling of this recording is one of icy silvery clarity without intimate warmth and sometimes almost amateurish solo singing (this is because Gardiner rotates the solos from among several members of the choir). Gardiner assigns some entire choral movements to soloists and tries for textural variety within movements by varying the forces. After the initial chords and orchestral fugal introduction the opening Kyrie begins with a VOCAL QUARTET and only then evolves into a full chorus, thus adding cumulative weight without an escalation of volume alone, as is we generally come to expect and as is routinely done. He tries for further variety by using both female mezzos and male altos, rotating the solo turns among various members of his choir, and fortifying the more thickly-orchestrated concluding sections (Sanctus, Osanna and Dona nobis pacem) with additional voices, strings, oboes and flutes. This performance although having many beautiful parts is COMPLETELY LACKING IN SPIRITUAL GREATNESS. So what is the b minor mass without spiritual grandeur? I really don't know and cannot understand how anyone still thinks this is the benchmark performance. Buy it for the choral singing with period instruments.
The situation concerning the existing recordings of Bach's B Minor Mass is according to me as follows:

Gardiner (ARCHIV): Period instruments version: Choral singing glorious and stunning soloists of much lesser quality and overall feeling very icy, cold and completely lacking in spirituality.

Herreweghe (HARMONIA MUNDI): Period instrument version. Choral singing is sometimes weak and without great emotional envolvement; it lacks bite and is much too anodyne. This choral weakness runs throughout the entire performance and ruins what could otherwise have been a superb performance given the quality of the fine solo singing.. Solo singing often of exceptional intense feeling, especially the duet 'Et in unum dominum' (Zomer /Scholl) and the Agnes Dei (Scholl). Often bright brisk tempi,counterpuntal lines clearly demarcated although the back and forth dynamics between the counterpuntal lines it not well done. The overall feeling of this recording is of a warm meditative almost monastic medieval quality, which is not appropriate in my opinion to this great late Baroque work, but which is all the same very pleasing and beautiful and will put you in a state of contemplative rest,an example of how great this Bach work is that it can support so many various interpretations. Buy it for the solo singing especially Scholl who is exceptional and unmatched in any other recording of this work.

Klemperer (EMI): Modern instruments. Very slow tempi, often grave and oftentimes too solemn, interpretated as a liturgical work, that is as a mass, which it really is not. (The work as a whole was never labeled as a Mass by Bach, only the earlier Kyrie and Gloria parts were.) The title Mass is a later 19th century publisher's addition since he saw that it was written to the words of the mass. This work is more like a sacred opera, a glorious final statement by Bach praising God and a synthesis of his whole life and of the many preceding periods of musical history. Janet Baker is excellent especially in the Agnes Dei, also the Benedictus is splendid. Buy it if you want a liturgical prayerful intrepretation.

Jochum (EMI): Modern instruments.Choral singing splendid at or above the level of the Gardiner recording, all soloists are of exceptional quality, and sing with great warmth and feeling. There are moments when it makes your spine tingle. Performed by a man of great Christian faith and it shows in this interpretation. All things considered it is the best version available, if you can overlook the slightly fussy feeling (but ever so slightly) that the modern instruments create. Buy it if you want one almost perfect modern instrument version.

Rilling (HANNSLER): Modern instruments. It's a toss up between the Jochim version and this splendid version, which one to consider the best. Here the advantage over the Jochum version is that although it's a modern instrument version it is performed by a Bach expert who well knows the differences between a modern instrument version and a period performance and the instruments sound very much like period instruments at the right moments, at musically graphic points and like modern ones at the moments which require fuller tone color. The soloists are a slight notch down compared with the Jochum version. The overall sound is clearer and more transparent than the Jochum version. Buy it if you want one almost perfect modern/period version, with minor flaws in the solo singing.
The Bach B minor Mass is probably the greatest work of music ever written by one of the greatest musicians of Western music and therefore no one version can do this masterpiece justice. It is extremely complex and difficult chorally and architecturally.

Bruggen (GLOSSA):Period instrument performance with sublime perfection at every level, perfect tempos, exquisite dynamic choral movements, sensitively shaped arias, rich textural detail with exquisite string articulation, and an overall sense of balance between orchestra and chorus. A grandly-scaled exhuberant performance that fully realizes the spiritual power and interpretive possibilities inherent in this work, and that feels very natural and relaxed at the same time. It is spiritual without seeming prayerful with moments of spine tingling beauty and stunning percussion, baroque oboe and brass effects to blow you away. This recording is from a concert performance in Warsaw, Poland in 2009. It is now my first choice, a slight notch above the Rilling modern instrument version. However both the Rilling and the Bruggen version are reference recordings and both are superb. Digipac edition with excellent notes explaining the history of the work and the origin of this recording.

Here however is on a Scale of 1 to 10 how I would rate the situation:

Bruggen 9.8Bach: Mass in B minor (Cappella Amsterdam; Orchestra of the 18th Century / Frans Brüggen)

Rilling 9.7 Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232 (Edition Bachakademie Vol 70) /Rilling

Jochum 9.6 Bach: Mass in B minor

Herreweghe 9.3 ( Won the Diapson D'Or Award)Bach: Mass in B minorBach: Mass in B minor /Herreweghe

Richter 9.2 Old flawed recorded sound quality but fine musicality, warmth & brilliance J. S. Bach: Mass in B minor

Gardiner 9.0

Klemperer 8.8Bach: Mass in B Minor

(P.S. I recently heard parts of René Jacobs' version, a limited edition on Berlin Classics and I think it's excellent.Mass in B Minor (Jacobs) [Limited Edition] Also consider the Hengelbrock version on DHM, small original instrument performance with many idiosyncratic decisions which detract from the work and from the genius of Bach. Classicstoday gives it reference recording status. I don't like it!Bach: Mass in B minor, also see Suzuki, which I haven't heard Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232on BIS also given reference recording status by Classicstoday, maybe!
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A classic recording of this magnificent work by J.S. Bach that deserves to be investigated and have a place in any collection of recordings of music by Bach.
The period instrument sound is excellent without the over the top string and voice vibrato on some other recordings.
Also the sound of the Orchestra and Choir is not so big and massive that it would not be a fair representation of the sound that may have been heard in a church of Bach's attention.
The tempo is good. It is not too fast and not too slow and the performance is bright and enthusiastic.
The wind and string instruments sound wonderful and the clarity of the sound recordintg is fine.
I have a criticism though, the performance lacks the sort of power of emotion that the composition deserves. There is emotion in the playing but I do feel it needs more passion. Its only a small point really because the rest of it is excellent.
Gardiner has given excellent attention to detail in the authenticity of the performance and the sound of the choir and Orchestra are well balanced and powerful in terms of historical feel.
In fact as an authentic period performance it is very good indeed.
This is not the best recording by Gardiner but it is a great representation of the marvellous Mass in B minor.
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I have a number of recordings of this wonderful piece (some of which I have reviewed on Amazon). It is invidious to single out a best performance but this is really quite extraordinary.

John Eliot Gardiner has a very clear vision of how this work should go and gives a very bold and powerful performance. It is one that had me marvelling at Bach's genius as an orchestrator and composer for voices. The brass and wind solo playing is so virtuosic on this recording. The trumpet playing is so vibrant and alive at the perorations at the end of the Gloria and Credo portions of the work. No other recording I have heard of this work brings this out so joyously.

The choir is superb on this recording. Many of the singers in the choir at the time (1985) have gone onto bigger and better things as soloists in their own right. The solo arias in the work have been sung with perhaps more personality by big names singers in other recordings but the chorus part have never been given so much life and vitality as here. There are recordings of the work with only one voice per part as well as ones with all choral movements being sung by full choir all the time. Gardiner steers a wise middle way here. The chordal and loud bits are sung by full choir but much of the florid and quieter music is sung by solo voices, enabling the listener to appreciate musical detail fully.

It is also a very spiritually uplifting performance - just listen to the majestic sweep of the Gratias agimus tibi and Dona nobis pacem movements!

Highly recommended
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on 19 November 2010
It's a shame - we have one of the greatest masterpieces of all time, a renowned conductor - but we are given a reading of this majestic work that sounds as though Gardiner was simply going through the motions. For sure there is some very sensitive singing and some very tight and almost exciting choral work, but, overall, the performance seems strangely devoid of life. I was surprised at some very odd tempo fluctuations which really disturbed the natural 'line' of the music. I feel that Gardiner has allowed ego to interfere here over the true purity and soul of the work - fine if you are Karajan or Andrew Parrott, they pull it off, but Gardiner seems to lack imagination in this CD, and his vision of the work is not on a par with other recordings.

Yes, the 'purist' angle can be argued again and again - original instruments, no vibrato, and all that - but was Gardiner not aware that his players were, at times, making horrific sounds? One cannot imagine that Bach would have approved of such 'noises'. Surely the art of performing Bach (and so many other composers) is to try and relay the fundamental message and intention - in this case a glorious Mass, one of the great works of all time - so therefore it is the 'duty' of conductors to think of the enjoyment and satisfaction of listeners and to pose the question: 'Am I giving my best and will the real message of the music come through'. I feel that perhaps Gardiner ought to start asking these questions and listening, objectively, to the often unacceptable sounds his players produce.

Overall then, not a great listening experience, but it's surprising that, despite the negative comments I've written above, there were sections of this performance that were satisfying. I feel that Gardiner can hit the mark if he wants - alas he didn't here.
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on 22 March 2001
Never performed in Bach's lifetime the Mass in B minor is perhaps one of the greatest musical works ever written, indeed Bach never had at his disposal the number and quality of musicians needed to perform this work. Full of marvellous harmony and melody, its musical scope and dimension are hugh. If Bach himself was able to view this performance I believe he would pronounce himself to be well satisfied.
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on 9 June 2014
This is a fabulous recording. My enjoyment of it was spoiled by the way that the track changes within a longer movement result in a 'gap' in the sound which is very jarring. If I'd known it was going to be like that I wouldn't have bought the download. If anyone knows if there's a fix to this (for playback on a kindle) I'd love to hear about it. I've still given this four stars as the music is so perfect and the performance so wonderful, but if I can't fix the hiccups between tracks I don't know how much I'll actually listen to it.
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on 10 February 2012
I am glad I am not the only one to dislike this performance. I have read so many rave reviews and recommendations I was really looking forward to hearing it. What a disappointment. But praise where it is due. The singers of the Monteverdi Choir are splendid and excel themselves in the Sanctus and Osanna sections. The soloists are good but not outstanding in any way. The orchestra, well they are generally good but I agree with "AbsoluteClassical" in that there are some ugly sounds, mainly caused by the vibrato-less strings. Some - not all by any means - of Gardiner's tempi are simply too fast, the worst example being "Laudamus Te", which is an unseemly scramble. At an appropriate tempo this is one of Bach's most beautiful arias: is beauty a dirty word to the HIP brigade?

More generally there is a feeling of haste: the playing is matter-of-fact "let's get this over with" in manner, although less so in the slower numbers. Perhaps JEG has concentrated on musicological theory to the neglect of the emotional content. In any event it fails to move me and I shall not be playing it very often. I think I am being generous to give it three stars. If you want a period-instrument performance, Harnoncourt is miles better.
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on 5 August 2011
With Gardiner you always get vitality and transparency. This recording is no exception. There is a light and almost brilliant touch to it, but without lacking depth in the more serious parts. Exellent singing and playing all through. Trumpets and corni are outstanding.
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on 5 November 2015
Delivering within a few days! Perfect.
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