Robert Shaw's reading of the B Minor Mass is, in one sense at least, just what one would expect: sober and purposeful, beautifully shaped (Shaw is a master architect), it centers on the chorus. Like all of Shaw's choruses, the Atlanta group has that trademark richness of body and blend, and it sings with utter unanimity as though it were one great voice. Shaw opts for marginally broader tempos than those found in most period-instrument performances but is nowhere near as glacial as some interpreters.
The sound world of Bach’s last great Mass has changed radically in recent decades; one-to-a-part performance practice is, as conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen puts it, “changing our entire notion of Bach’s acoustic universe”. This bold claim is amply proven in an account of dazzling transparency, dance-like rhythms and utter clarity. Sometimes the balance seems not quite right, for example when organ continuo dominates, but some superb ensemble numbers pit voices against virtuosic instruments so each seems to outdo the other in joyous exuberance. The five soloists complement each other well, and the addition of just five extra singers is all that is needed to explode Bach’s universal vision into life.
The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists are renowned of their spectacular performances of Bach’s epic masterpiece, which they have toured extensively. During their last tour (in Munich, Frankfurt, Lucerne, Aix-en-Provence and Paris) there was a stampede for tickets and they performed every night in full houses, to spellbound audiences. This album is the culmination of the tour: it was recorded in an open session in London, and captures the special atmosphere of the concerts. It is presented in a 2-CD casebook and contains a booklet featuring original notes by John Eliot Gardiner translated in English, German and French.