Bach’s disparate and disconnected Mass does not predict universal success and adulation based solely on its origins; indeed, aside from some mention of the Kyrie and Gloria movements fairly early on after his tenure in Leipzig began, nothing really happens with the work until the end of his life—the last three years to be exact, when he assembled the rest of it of already-existent pieces from various cantatas. Yet it only goes to prove that the assembly process itself requires more than just culling past favorites into one work, but instead a highly-organized and seamlessly flawless act of will that knows just what from when and where are going to compliment that which had already been set in motion. In the case of the monumental Mass, the result speaks for itself, and no one today is going to complain about what they hear.
Indeed, the Mass is one of those seminal works that people like to propose as one of the foundations of western art; and perhaps, just perhaps, it is. I find it interesting that Bach came so late to its realization and completion—he never heard it performed in his own lifetime. And because it is such a marvelously gargantuan work—only Mozart’s torso C-minor Mass later would compete with it—it is astounding today to hear how blind musicology often tries to neuter it of its effect.
Fortunately, Jonathan Cohen is having none of it; though espousing typical period instruments and, unfortunately, a countertenor (who fortunately, is one of the best out there), there is not a word about the silly and non-existent pairing-down of the chorus to one singer per part, and the 20-strong members of the choral section of Arcangelo sing with a splendid radiance and bold, highly persuasive exuberance that knocks you over with its perspicacity and sheer sonic power. I am not sure that a SACD would have helped it that much. Strike that—of course Super Audio would have helped, my but sudden loss of perspective only shows how fine an audio trip this is, and how well balanced the whole production comes across on CD.
The performers are all very fine, and this is easily one of the best B-minors on the market. I can’t quite launch it over Shaw and Herreweghe, but it is very close, and no one acquiring it will have any regrets whatsoever.