Like music lovers the world over, John Nelson believes Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor is a pinnacle of Western music. For years, he has cherished the dream of performing this masterwork in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris whose renown has grown constantly since he began conducting with them eight years ago. In addition to John Nelson and his Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, the Mass in B minor brings together the Maîtrise de Notre-Dame choir conducted by Nicole Corti as well as internationally recognized soloists Ruth Ziesak (soprano), Joyce DiDonato (mezzo), Daniel Taylor (alto), Paul Agnew (tenor) and Dietrich Henschel (baritone).
There are three Eugene Jochum recordings of the Mass in B minor floating around out there: this is the first and oldest. Jochum's reading is generally even-paced and flows easily. He avoids the stateliness of Klemperer's reading (a Deutsche Grammophon reissue) but does not fly by the listener in a mad rush as do Pearlman and Gardiner–overall, this is, in a word, a very solid and respectable performance. Jochum's choral forces are large (HUGE if you're used to the "one voice per part" approach) and at their fullest (such as the opening "Kyrie") the choirs and orchestra combined can generate a respectably powerful sound, despite the age of the recording. The soloists are all uniformly good, if not the most outstanding singers in the world. There are slight balance issues in spots, notably the "Domine Deus" duet between soprano and tenor soloists: the soprano overpowers the tenor almost entirely throughout the movement.
…Bach's Mass in B Minor is undoubtedly his most spectacular choral work and the Dunedin Consort's soloist-led performance enables a level of clarity and expression that is not traditionally a feature of modern choral performance…
The ensemble is nigh perfect… the freshness with which they sing radiates joy throughout the entire score.Classic FM Magazine
The Dunedin Consort's exemplary singers produce virtuoso choruses that are theatrically charged, splendidly poised and exquisitely blended.Gramophone
…It was unusual for composers working in the Lutheran tradition to compose a Missa tota and Bach's motivations remain a matter of scholarly debate. The Mass was never performed in totality during Bach's lifetime; the first documented complete performance took place in 1859. Since the nineteenth century it has been widely hailed as one of the greatest compositions in history, and today it is frequently performed and recorded…
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.