William Christie / Les Arts Florissants

J.S. Bach: Mass in B minor

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Buffalo-born conductor William Christie was one of the early leading lights of the entire historical-performance movement in France. He has been known mostly for performances of French Baroque opera and sacred music, which, as he suggests in a booklet note, makes this reading of Bach's Mass in B minor, BWV 232, something of a personal project. It has that flavor: it's enthusiastic but a bit idiosyncratic and rough around the edges. Christie avoids the temptation to make the mass sound like a succession of French operatic scenes. His orchestra and choir are of moderate (but not minimal) size, and he takes mostly brisk tempi and forges sharp accents and distinct lines in the polyphony. He asserts that "my goal in this recording is to show a human side of Bach's art," and indeed what you get is a vivid, direct response to the text, not smoothed out by anything like the drilled rehearsals of John Eliot Gardiner's Bach choirs. If those are a bit smooth for you, you may well go for the sound of Christie's longtime group Les Arts Florissants. The soloists are strong, although in the Christe eleison, soprano Katherine Watson and countertenor Tim Mead add ornaments to a point where the all-important pulse is obscured. This is very much a historical-performance release in the old style, and you might sample the Sanctus to see if you find it underpowered or, instead, careful and subtle. The sound from the Paris Philharmonie loses a bit of the intimacy Christie is going for here, but there's an X factor working in the recording's favor: a rare sort of personal quality.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
Mass in B minor BWV 232
1 1:57
2 1:49
3 4:27
4 3:14
5 2:54
6 4:03
7 5:39
8 4:22
9 2:17
10 4:19
11 2:34
12 4:07
13 2:33
14 5:24
15 2:59
blue highlight denotes track pick