Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating recording of a masterpiece, 17 Feb 2008
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This review is from: Mass In B Minor (Hengelbrock, Freiburger Barockorchester) (Audio CD)
As so often with this sort of music, this review must serve two purposes: put simply, some people know the music, and some don't. I'll start with those people who don't know the music, and say that this work by Bach is quite simply one of the greatest achievements in music from all times and all cultures. Taking the words of the Roman Catholic communion service (hence "Mass in B Minor") Bach created a colossal work which ranges from thrilling, exhilarating writing for 8 different voice parts and full orchestra, through to quiet, meditative movements for solo voice which reflect on the essence of what it means to be human. To listen to it from start to finish is a great undertaking: with this recording you will need almost 2 hours, but you can put on any part of it and find what can only be described as music of complete genius. Add it to your collection today.

For those who already know the work, this is a recording that I can recommend wholeheartedly, as it offers a genuinely exciting alternative to the major "brand names" in the Baroque music world. There are very fine recordings by great conductors, with some stellar line-ups of soloists on offer (Herreweghe trumps almost everyone with his incredible array of singers), but this is a breath of fresh air. The Baltasar-Neumann-Ensemble is a relatively new group to join the fray, but it brings with it a director who made his name with some fascinating work on early operas, whose sense of drama and above all of pace sets him apart from his peers. Where Gardiner can at times seem mechanical and hurried, and Herreweghe over-indulgent (at least in his version of the Agnus Dei, no matter how wonderfully Andreas Scholl sings it), Hengelbrock allows slow movements to breathe naturally, but can inject real fire and pace when he needs it (witness the Et Resurrexit).

And this vision of the music is thrillingly brought to life by an outstanding choir and orchestra. Technically there is some breathtaking work on this recording (again to mention the basses on the Et Resurrexit, where in the tricky central passage they fly through the runs with real style, and yet never putting a foot wrong.) The phrasing is incisive and very musical, and the overall effect quite stunning.

Where this recording deliberately sets itself apart from its competitors is in its soloists. Whereas most other groups bring in big names to attract the customers, Hengelbrock makes use of his own singers to "step out" and deliver the various solo and duet arias. These are technically tough works, and while none of the singers has a voice quite as brilliant as a Scholl or Kooy, they give excellent and moving performances. And I believe there is more value to be found here: because the same singers perform both chorus and solo items, the quality of sound is consistent throughout, so that the noise the sopranos make, for example, does not suddenly give way to a welter of full-throated opera for one number, and then switch back to a nice, polite chorus sound. For me this is a very pleasant revelation, and the variety of singers used adds real interest to listening for long periods.

This is a long review, and it has gone on for long enough. Buy this CD.
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Location: Nottingham, UK

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