BACH: Mass in B minor – The Netherlands Bach Society/ Jos van Veldhoven, conductor/ Dorothee Mields, soprano/ Johannette Zomer, soprano/ Matthew White, alto/ Charles Daniels, tenor/ Peter Harvey, bass – Channel Classics

by | Nov 14, 2007 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BACH: Mass in B minor – The Netherlands Bach Society/ Jos van Veldhoven, conductor/ Dorothee Mields, soprano/ Johannette Zomer, soprano/ Matthew White, alto/ Charles Daniels, tenor/ Peter Harvey, bass – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 25007 (2 discs), 53:30 & 52:45 ****1/2 {Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

By my count this deluxe production (complete with a 192-page hardbound booklet) becomes the fifth SACD recording we have of this seminal work, and no doubt many will follow. These are period instruments of course, and since, as I have always maintained, it is wrong to compare recordings according to the type of instruments they are performed on, I went back and auditioned three other favorites along with this one.

Eugene Ormandy recorded this work (available now only on private issue, though his catalog has been bought by Naxos, good news for all of us) in a setting that can only be described as buoyant and celebratory, in accordance with the age it was done, but none the worse for experiencing this piece. His tempos are not that much off what has become the current standard, though his use of soloists and choir leans towards the latter quite heavily. The strings are superb, as always in Philadelphia, and his account very nice indeed. Robert Shaw’s second recording, for Telarc and in Atlanta, has do be represented as the most “devotional” on record, and every bar is imbued with a sense of the sacred, Shaw treating Bach’s opus with kid gloves and an almost fearfulness of getting too close. The choir is among the best on record, and for me this remains the greatest modern recording on standard instruments. Philippe Herreweghe gave us my personal favorite among Bach B’s these days, using a 23-member choir that sets all sorts of choral standards. This 1998 recording is simply superb, and belongs in everyone’s library, regardless of how many others you may have.

This new issue is close to that, very close, and in SACD to beat, but doesn’t quite top Herreweghe’s effort. His band plays just a tad better, and the soloists advance by the same amount. But the sound on this new reading is absolutely sterling, recorded at the Waalse Kirk in Amsterdam, a venue with delightfully apt acoustics and superb (and controlled) resonance. The spatial maneuvering in this recording works beautifully, and I cannot imagine it done better. Performance-wise, it differs in temperament to some degree from Herreweghe, who presents Bach to us in a reading of medieval grandeur and ascetic spirituality, splendid in itself but hardly of the Reformation period. This reading is far more Lutheran, and it is easy to believe this recording to be very close to what Bach may have heard himself. There are five soloists with a choir of ten (no one-to-a-part stuff here, thank goodness), and the work comes off much more colorful than usually presented. Tempos are again mainstream contemporary, but no nonsensical excesses are given in any aspect of the reading.

So, I cannot rate it higher than the Herreweghe, but as a SA recording it goes to the top of the list, and listening to it has been an absolute pleasure. Buy it, get Herreweghe and Shaw, and you are set for life!

— Steven Ritter 
 

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