01 Bach B MinorBach – Mass in B Minor
Cantata Collective; Nicholas McGegan
Avie Records AV2668 (cantatacollective.org)

Some people submit finely-crafted resumes, perfectly-worded cover letters and superfluously supportive references as part of a job application. Johann Sebastian Bach sent (an early version of) the Mass in B Minor. Submitted (along with a letter of appeal) to Elector Frederick Augustus II of Saxony in July 1733, Bach was seeking a position outside of Leipzig, where his work at the Thomaskirche was full of conflict, insufficient resources and, according to Bach, blatant disrespect. Despite this impressive application, there is no evidence that the work was ever performed in Dresden and Bach did not receive the title of Hofcompositeur, or Court Composer, from the Elector until late in 1736.

Now recognized as one of the greatest choral masterworks in music history, the B Minor Mass was not composed all at once, nor was it entirely spontaneous; it was, however, meticulously crafted. Cobbled together over a significant portion of Bach’s career from music that he composed previously and revised as needed, this work is considered his last major composition.

The San Francisco-based Cantata Collective, led by early music specialist Nicholas McGegan, tackles the B Minor Mass head-on in this live recording from March 2023. Measured and well-paced, this performance prioritizes contrapuntal clarity over velocity, giving fleeting movements such as the Et Resurrexit a sense of depth, and slower sections, such as the opening Kyrie, much weight and gravity.

While not as superficially thrilling as more “fast and furious” interpretations of this work, it is a challenging task to find a single note that is out of place or tune; it is, in fact, difficult to determine that this is indeed a live recording. The choir and orchestra are in fine form here, and this recording is an excellent listening opportunity both for those who are intimately familiar with this masterwork and those who are discovering it for the first time.

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