…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 Bach Mass in B minor, BWV 232, assembled from bits and pieces over some years, coheres in its final form in ways that perhaps only the composer understood. This recording by the Choir of Trinity College Cambridge and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Stephen Layton has been road-tested in performances around Britain for several years, but it hasn't lost the enthusiasm of its youthful singers.
Two things distinguished Thomas Hengelbrock's 1996 recording of Bach's B minor Mass from the many other historically informed performances of the work released in the early digital era. Where many other conductors used small mixed choirs, Hengelbrock not only used the 26-voice Bathasar-Neumann-Chor, he drew his soloists from it. And where most other conductors tended exclusively toward quick tempos, Hengelbrock mixed things up, favoring fast tempos in joyful movements and slow tempos for painful movements.
This recording, made in 1969, presents Ricther's chorus of 80 and orchestra using modern instruments, considered truer to Bach's spirit at this time than the large-orchestra oratorio style It is great to see a large chorus of everyday citizen singing Bach with such fervor. Filmed in the lovely baroque-style Klosterkirche in Diessen, about 25 miles southwest of Munich, this is a wonderful representation of Richter and Bach.
There are many, many good things about Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort and Players' Bach performances – their luminous colors, complete clarity, utter lucidity, and structural integrity – that there is an uneasy feeling in criticizing them for their occasional flaws. When Parrott's Bach is good, it is as great as any that has been recorded in the past 20 years. It's as great as Leonhardt's, Koopman's, or Herreweghe's, and far better than Gardiner's, Harnoncourt's, or Rilling's. And Parrott's Bach is so great in the great pieces – so great in the overwhelming dramatic intensity of the close of his Saint John Passion and so great in the mystery, agony, and ecstasy of the central choral triptych in his Mass in B minor – that his performances seem very, very great indeed.(James Leonard)