Mass in B-minor, BWV232
Katherine Watson (soprano), Helen Charlston (mezzo-soprano), Iestyn Davies (countertenor), Gwilym Bowen (tenor) & Neal Davies (bass)

The Choir of Trinity College Cambridge

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Stephen Layton

Recorded 12-16 January 2017 at Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge, England
CDA68181/2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 1 hour 48 minutes
Reviewed: March 2018

Grandeur, solemnity, intimacy and excitement are all handsomely conveyed in this magnificent version of Bach’s B-minor Mass and which bears favourable comparison with some of the very best. In respect of earlier recordings this addition is no less notable for the quality of its instrumentalists or for the classy line-up of soloists. But, in its forty or so young voices from Trinity College, the luxury is having one of the finest collegiate choirs around and which, under Stephen Layton’s meticulous preparation, produces an exceptionally refined quality. This is not to dismiss excellent accounts from professional choruses such as The Sixteen, or two from the Monteverdi Choir, but the singing from Trinity is remarkable for its freshness, vigour and unanimity of tone.

Let’s just add there’s not always agreement when it comes to clarity of diction, most obviously in the ‘Kyrie’ where inconsistencies result in some less than emphatic entries because of tame consonants. One might also wish for more fire in the opening of the ‘Gloria’ and more weight in the ‘Sanctus’, but this is a purpose-built choral distinction based on accuracy, blend and intonation. Add to this lightness of touch, fleet-of-foot singing in ‘Confiteor’ (to Layton’s toe-tapping tempo) and impressing in ‘Pleni sunt coeli’ in which effortless semiquavers are second-to-none. There’s also much to enjoy in the subtle variety of expression, such as numbed disbelief (‘Crucifixus’) and bright joy (‘Et resurrexit’). There’s no flagging in ‘Gratias’ and ‘Dona nobis pacem’, and the right sort of tension sustains soaring phrases, borne aloft by discreet trumpets.

Of the vocal soloists Katherine Watson and Helen Charlston form a compelling partnership for ‘Christe eleison’. The different timbres of Watson and Gwilym Bowen (hers radiant, his gleaming) colour ‘Domine Deus’, and their innate musicianship is lovingly supported by Lisa Beznosiuk’s flute. Neal Davies is in good form, too, delivering a robust ‘Quoniam’ (bassoons slightly under-projected against Roger Montgomery’s horn) and a smoothly rendered ‘Et in Spiritum Sanctum’. Iestyn Davies’s ‘Agnus Dei’ is transcendent, as much to do with sheer vocal beauty as his capacity to add a sense of the confessional. The ne plus ultra is Watson’s ‘Laudamus te’ in which she combines purity of expression with tangible fervour.

Overall, Layton makes a distinguished traversal of the B-minor Mass, and the recording is well-served by a scholarly booklet note. Texts and translations are included.


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