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on 29 July 2010
An eye-opener, this (or ear-opener).Totally different from most rcds of this work, and I possess about half-a-dozen renditions purchased over the space of 50 yrs on LP, CD etc. There is nothing "coy" or petite about this Consort.
First-rate well-balanced CD/SACD rcd, clear as a bell. No strident ear-grating "original" instument sounds.....and I cannot help feeling that this is what Bach wanted.
Buy this Linn CD even if you own lots of others!
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on 19 November 2015
This is a sublime performance!
Bach vocal masterpieces performed by individual soloists rather than choirs with soloists provide an intimate and very powerful experience and this is probably the finest version of the B Minor mass with this configuration that I have heard. It is also quite likely to be more authentic to what Bach's audience would have heard which, in my view, is a definite "plus".
The playing and conducting are simply outstanding- fresh, vigorous and clear, with an energy and lightness that produce a tremendously exciting experience for the listener. The soloist are also outstanding, especially for their very clear articulation of the text and respect for each other when singing in combination. One of the highlights within an abundance of riches is the "Sanctus". The individual solos are also memorable, especially the "Laudamus Te" and the "Et in spiritum sanctum".
I have longed admired the Joshua Rifkin version of the Mass in B Minor with the Bach Ensemble, but this recording takes the work to an even higher level. Fittingly it uses Rifkin's edition of 2006
For me, this is one of the very greatest recordings of the Mass in B Minor I have ever heard.
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on 27 May 2010
First of all, confession time. I heartily dislike Joshua Rifkin's approach to the Bach cantatas and his subsequent massacre of some of the most marvellous music ever written. I don't care how much scholarly justification he has, I bought one cantata CD, listened to it once and gave it away. In my view, Bach needs a proper chorus to give it a bit of oomph in the big numbers. To me, they seem to cry out for it. You do NOT get majesty with four soloists.

Anyway, who cares how it was actually played back in Bach's day? This is music for the ages, and should not be stuck in a stylistic straitjacket. The point of the exercise is surely to give voice to the artistic and aesthetic concepts of which the music is capable, not to regard it as a museum piece occasionally to be respectfully dusted off and given a scholarly airing. To me, a decent chorus (such as Gardiner's Monteverdis) lets the thing sing and dance and jump and shout and encourages you to make a complete fool of yourself by waving your hands in the air and bellowing along in your own key.

So, when I saw the dreaded Rifkin name on this set, my heart sank. I have just made a BIG mistake, I thought. Even noting that this set employs some extra ripieno singers didn't improve my humour.

So, I sat down to listen, without too much expectation - and I confess I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't as awful as I expected. In fact, it was really quite good. Some "choral" bits were simply too anaemic - the opening "Kyrie" and stunning "Hosanna" with its dazzling soaring trumpets need a decent chorus - but others came over surprisingly well and full-blooded. And I must confess that the smaller number of singers does let you hear more clearly Bach's wonderful contrapuntal lines.

All of the singers are excellent, except for the alto who is passable (to my ears adequate in the Agnus Dei, but no more than that). The instrumentalists are outstanding, period. I don't know that I've ever heard a better group of instrumentalists in any B Minor. Occasionally the timpani are too intrusive, but that's the only very slight quibble on that score. The recording is excellent.

If I could, I'd give this set four-and-a-half stars. It hasn't made me feel any better about Rifkin's approach, but never have I heard Rifkin's argument better made (far better than HE ever made it). I will always still reach preferentially for Gardiner or Suzuki (or even the majestic old Klemperer, which taught me to love the work), but there are individual solo movements here that are jewel-like in their excellence, and I will go back to those with pleasure.

And of course folk who like the Rifkin approach will absolutely love this.
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on 25 February 2014
Excellent recording of a magnificent work. Linn records are definitely on the way to produce the "digital with human face" Great seller, fast service. Thank you.
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on 25 August 2010
What a pity! This could have been an excellent recording had it not been for the strange timbre and warbling (actually more like a wobble)of the second soprano, Cecilia Osmond. The sound of her voice comes quite close to the sound of a boy treble and doesn't mix well with the other singers. The moment that she enters it is her voice that dominates. This wouldn't be quite so bad if it wasn't for her peculiar vibrato. Even on short notes one can hear it - it is quite simply always there. Sometimes it sounds as though she doesn't have enough breath or enough support in her voice production. I have never heard anything quite like it. In her first solo aria "Laudamus te" one can barely distinguish between what is supposed to be an ornament (trill) and the other notes - every note wobbles uncontrolledly. Has noone else noticed this? I for my part cannot endure it and am going to resell this recording as soon as I can. The first soprano, Susan Hamilton doesn't satisfy me either and the duet between the two sopranos "Christe eleison" is a very shaky affair.
It is a great pity because the other singers are adequate and combine well. Particularly the bass, Matthew Brook is very good. He was equally impressive in the Dunedin's Messiah. The orchestra is excellent, possibly the best I have heard in this work - terrific precision, excellent phrasing and articulation. The horn solo in "Quoniam solus ..." is exceptionall well played. Since the recorded sound (SACD)is outstanding too, the irritation caused by Cecilia Osmond and to a lesser extent Susan Hamilton is doubly annoying. Surely John Butt, the conductor must hear this. Why record this work with such a singer? Surely there must be alternatives. Susan Hamilton is one of the founders of the Dunedin Consort, so this could explain her presence. I found the singing of both sopranos hard to enjoy in the much praised St.Matthew Passion but there it was the really weak Evangelist who ruined the recording for me - tight, forced voice production coupled with awful German pronunciation - very important in his part as the story-teller. He managed to battled his way through the work is the best I can say.
Sorry for this negative review. It is not my habit to offer such harsh criticism. I am also not a voice fetishist and can enjoy many singing styles. Please do not misunderstand me on another point. I am absolutely not an opponent of one voice per part Bach and admire a number of such recordings. However I don't regard OVPP as absolutely indispensible even though this is probably the way Bach himself performed many of his works. This fact alone doe3s not mean that performances with choirs have lost their validity. Anyone who has visited the Thomanerkirche (St.Thomas church) in Leipzig where most of Bach's choral works were performed under the composers's direction will have recognized that the acoustics of this fairly small late-gothic church made OVPP performances feasible. Of course the soloists should be good the volume is no problem. On the other hand the B-minor mass is difficult to sing and most most choirs are over their limit - this statement is based on personal experience as I have sung it myself many times in a choir (Munich Bachchor under Karl Richter). Minkowski has said that he believes that one can only do full justice to the complexity of this work when performing with soloists. He may be right but there are also quite a few excellent recordings with small choirs.
If you want to hear a really good version OVPP try Minkowski's recording, that with Jos van Veldhoven or the older recording with Cantus Köln. They all have excellent, well matched soloists. For a OVPP St.Matthew Passion try McCreesh, van Veldhoven or the new Kuijken recordings. For a very good OVPP Magnificat (another difficult work in which solo voices do well) listen to the recording with the Ricercar Consort under Pierlot. Included on this wonderful disc are also two of Bach's Lutheran masses. The recording of the 4 Lutheran masses with the Purcell Quartet is also excellent in my opinion.
One last remark: some of the Amazon reviews have described this recording as a revelation because it is OVPP. They appear to believe that it is the first OVPP recording. This is not true. The Cantus Köln version appeared almost ten years ago.
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on 3 August 2010
Having been familiar with traditional recordings for many years, and avoiding period instruments like the plague, I was bowled over by this recording. The orchestra is excellent and should please both period and modern instrument aficionados.
The choruses are a revelation sung in this way - the clarity of the counterpoint is far superior to that of massed(!)voices. I for one will not go back to my older recordings!
The criticisms of the female soloists are perhaps valid to a small degree, but not to the extent of spoiling the recording; after all it is the choruses which make the B minor mass so sublime.
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on 25 November 2013
Reader, to my simplistic way of thinking, if Bach had intended his Mass in B Minor to be sung only by soloists, there would be half as many staves devoted to the vocal component of the manuscript. Furthermore, grandeur is not an anachronistic concept in the baroque - its architecture alone bears witness to this. Even so, if John Butt and his confederates want to transmute BWV 232 into the Madrigal in B Minor, the Hans Keller in me says, "why not".

This performance could have been a lot worse. Indeed there is much to commend it. It is joyful and reverential. It's thoroughly musical. Clipped phrasing, Rene Jacobs-style, is thankfully absent. There is nothing anaemic about the soloists: they sing gutsily. Nor do they eschew vibrato: it's rightly used as an expressive device. Even so, I would not ascribe greatness to any one of them (the female voices in particular are little better than vin ordinaire). My main concern beforehand is that Butt would have to temper the output of his orchestra lest it overwhelm the soloists in such movements as the beginning and end of the Gloria, the close of the Credo et al; while he throttles back in the Sanctus in particular, it is amazing how he gets the best of both worlds: grandeur and intimacy.

In A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt coins the concept of the Common Man. It has theological implications. His voice is the chorus in such works. Some might decry its inclusion as "tuning by committee". To my mind, earthiness - and the good earth at that - underwrites Mankind's invocation of God. It is perilous to exclude it in BWV 232.

Ultimately I find this performance to be too ethereal, if not virginal for my liking. Nevertheless, I concede its success.
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on 29 March 2013
I have previously bought this group's Acis and Galatea and loved it. However, despite the first-rate production and excellent singing and playing by all concerned here - under Butt's undoubtedly talented direction - the performance ultimately leaves me unmoved. For me, the argument for performing this masterwork with one voice to a part is not made by this recording.
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