J.S. Bach

Recommended (or not) Recordings

Mass in B Minor

Main Performer
or Conductor:
Robert King
Accompaniment/Orchestra:The King's Consort
Soloists:Matthias Ritter
Manuel Mrasek
Matthias Schloderer
Maximilian Fraas
Anthony Rolfe Johnson
Michael George
Toelzer Knabenchor
Individual Works:Mass in B Minor BWV232
Format:Compact Disc
Record Label:Hyperion
Catalog Number:CDA67201/2
Year Released/Recorded:1996
Total Playing Time:110'20''
Comments:J.M. Barker said:

Upon hearing this, I gave away:

(i) Solti's version
(ii) Harnoncourt's version
(iii) Gardiner's version

I still have the Klemperer, but it's on the back of the shelf, now.

Darius Namdjou said:

I have little but praise for this recording of the mass in b-minor.Up to now it is my personal preference out of the following reasons: The choice of an all-male cast is to my mind not only the most authentic way of performing this music but as the conductor himself puts it it sounds utterly right.And if the treble soloists are of that high standard it is a mere pleasure to listen to even if I can understand that this is a matter of taste. The choral singing in this recording is particularly fine which can also be said of the orchestra. What particularly strikes are the well-judged tempos choosen so that there is never the danger of too much forcing which is a crucial fault in many other recordings of baroque music. A good example for the latter is german conductor Reinhard Goebel, but also John Eliot Gardiner regarding his recording of the Christmas Oratorio. So, Robert King´s recording combines high technical kills with a deep insight of the work.

Andrew Smith said:

Although this mass was not written for St Thomas Leipzig, it stands solidly among the works that were intended for performance there. That the voices available to Bach were all male cannot be doubted, and so this performance must be taken seriosly on the grounds of authenticity. It seems extraordinary that all-male performances of the B min Mass, the Passions and Cantatas are so scarce. If the question of justification is raised, the boot must surely be on the other foot - how does one justify using female voices in the high vocal lines of this music ? As with the question of justifying the use of the piano in performances of, say the 48 Preludes & Fugues, the answer is not difficult to find, and this performance illustrates it well. The mature female voice or the piano are technically more perfect instruments than the harpsichord or juvenile male. Moreover, it can be argued that boys' voices matured later in C18 Leipzig than in modern Europe, and therefore that the higher voices available to Bach were more secure and technically accomplished than their modern counterparts. Listening to these discs,one cannot avoid the view that Bach would not have written this music for these boys, which raises the interesting question 'What kind of boys did he have ?'. Perhaps those forces cannot be recreated convincingly now. But that should not stop us trying.

But theory aside, how do these discs stand up to being listened to ? If we avoid the subjective reaction of hearing them as either as 'horrid brats', or 'little darlings', what do these boys achieve musically ?

It must be acknowledged immediately that they are hard-pressed to cope with the technical complexities or compass of the music, and often fail to bring it off with complete assurance and poise (as in the Laudamus Te and Qui sedes sections where Manuel Mrasek' voice weakens at the extremes of the compass). And yet also there are moments of ravishing beauty where any other approach than this seems sacrilegious (e.g. the tenor/soprano duette 'Domine Deus', or in the choral 'Confiteor').

My personal inclinationis to give the boys a lot of latitude, and to forgive much. Their performance is distinctive, and in places magical, although also technically imperfect (the 'Qui Tollis' is both !) This cannot be the definitive performance of the B minor Mass (could such a thing ever be realised ?), but it has a valued place in my collection alongside other interpretations. One looks forward hopefully to the next offering in thid genre, which, with luck will be more uniformly successful.

Acknowledgements:Thank you to the following for submitting this recording and for your comments:
  • J.M. Barker
  • Darius Namdjou
  • Andrew Smith
Date First Submitted:01/28/1997