Bach's "Mass in B minor, BWV 232," is unique among his works in that it evolved over a period of years, beginning with a Sanctus written in 1724, continuing through a Kyrie and Gloria of 1733 and the remainder of the movements written at the end of Bach
's life, and extending even beyond that into not fully specified revisions made by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
to the damaged manuscript. This new recording from a crack group of mostly German musicians and conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann is perhaps the first to incorporate the 1733 sections, using a new edition of the mass made by the Carus label and publishing company on which the recording appears. These are intriguing; Bach's impulse seems to have been to simplify the "Lombardic" rhythms in two of the sections of the Gloria. But really bigger news is the all-around excellent performance, combining soberness, transparency, great feeling, and superlative work from all the soloists, but especially English mezzo Carolyn Sampson
. Rademann deploys a 32-voice choir, right in the sweet spot between heavy traditional choir performances and unacceptably minimal readings that assume the choirs Bach used were what he would have wanted if money were no object. It's matched by an orchestra of roughly the same size, and the result is a reading that's agile, rich when the text and music call for it, and precise in the delineation of Bach's lines. Rademann's tempi tend toward the quicker side in the joyous outer polyphonic movements, balanced by quiet intensity in the central text junctions. Sample the Incarnatus from the Credo, CD two, track four, for an example of how the superb Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
and Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
respond to Rademann's leadership. The former group, much underrated, illustrates how Germany's high-quality regional choirs are making the transition to medium-sized historical performances that really fit their dimensions better than traditional performances usually did. In all, this is a historically informed performance that reflects the best German traditions. Carus' live sound from the Liederhalle in Stuttgart has great immediacy and hardly sacrifices any of the clarity that makes this such an impressive reading of the great "B minor Mass."