One of the most grown-up review sites around

51,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider


colourful imaginative harmony
Renate Eggebrecht violin

Leticia Gómez-Tagle
Chopin, Liszt, Scarlatti

Bax Piano Music

Guillaume LEKEU


Superior performance

Shostakovich 6&7 Nelsons

Verdi Requiem Thielemann

Marianna Henriksson
An outstanding recital

Arnold Bax
Be converted

this terrific disc

John Buckley
one of my major discoveries

François-Xavier Roth
A game-changing Mahler 3


Bryden Thomson


Vaughan Williams Concertos

RVW Orchestral



Support us financially by purchasing this from

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Mass in B Minor
Katherine Watson (sop)
Tim Mead (countertenor)
Reinoud Van Mechelen (tenor)
André Morsch (bass)
Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
rec. live, Philharmonie de Paris, September 2016
HARMONIA MUNDI HAF8905293.94 [52:16 + 52:47]

This is a marvellous new B Minor Mass and it is, without a doubt, the most French-sounding version of the piece to have yet come my way.

That might sound like a lazy stereotype. After all, it’s performed by that most renowned Francophile among musicians, William Christie, who has dedicated his life to rehabilitating the French Baroque and whose efforts have meant that names such as Lully, Rameau, Charpentier and Marais have been not only rescued from their specialist niche but have been given an uncontested place among the concert programmes of the Anglo-Saxons. With his ensemble Les Arts Florissants he has become one of the greatest champions of that music, so it’s hardly surprising that some of the interpretative dust of the French Baroque should rub off onto his Bach.

It’s not just a trope to describe his Bach as Gallic, however. It’s there right from the start. The opening Kyrie is the most mellifluous and honeyed I have heard since the advent of historical performance practice. The two great fugues proceed with cultured smoothness that sounds as though they have one eyebrow perpetually raised. It’s a sound of which, I suspect, Lutheran Bach would have profoundly disapproved. I rather liked it, however, and as a change from what has become the norm of period practice I found it very effective.

That’s only one example of one of the performance’s wider traits. Throughout, it has an elegance, an élan, a nonchalance, almost, that would make them seem entirely at home if performed in the court of ancien regime Versailles. The solos with their instrumental obligatti, for example, sound refined and polished in a manner that is a hundred miles away from the church and more from the realm of the theatre. There’s nothing wrong with that, though, and it’s in keeping with Christie’s vision. My favourites included Katherine Watson in the Laudamus te, with a wonderfully dusky violin, and André Morsch’s playful combat with the horn in the Quoniam. Tim Mead’s lovely countertenor is a repeated highlight, be it slotting into Watson’s soprano in the Christe or sustaining a blisterinly poignant Agnus Dei at the end.

Not only are the orchestral and instrumental playing super throughout, but the choral singing is top notch, too. That, however, will come as no surprise to those how know and love the work of Les Arts Florissants, and it’s great to hear them tackling one of the central works of the German repertoire. It’s a Teutonic world that they can’t be too practised in, but they bring something remarkably distinctive to it.

The main reason for the performance’s success, however, is Christie himself. Bringing his lifetime’s experience to the B Minor Mass must, surely, have been a labour of love rather than an expectation, and the results are wonderful. There is majesty aplenty in the Gloria, whose opening casts off the mellifluousness of the preceding Kyrie as though emerging into a new light, producing rumbustious, gloriously winning tone that brought a broad grin to my face, as did the outer bookends of the Credo. The Sanctus is taken at a rapid pace, with brilliantly detailed violin inflections to enliven the texture, and the final Dona nobis pacem is brilliantly paced.

Perhaps the highlight of the work is the Easter sequence, however, and, in particular, the Crucifixus. Here you get the unmistakeable whiff of the Opéra, because Christie slows down the pace and stresses the beat with what comes close to string (and voice) sforzandi in a way that surely mimics the nails being repeatedly battered into Christ’s suffering body. It’s this movement that will tell you whether this performance is for you. Some might find it vulgar or too overtly theatrical. I thought it wonderful, an example of the conductor using his experience in the theatre to enlighten and deepen his vision of Bach.

Choose for yourself, but I thought this the most memorable B Minor Mass to have come my way since the (entirely different) performance from John Butt and the Dunedin Consort. Explore it and be surprised.

Simon Thompson

We are currently offering in excess of 51,000 reviews

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger