The Gardiner is a light "original instruments" like sound.
It is very good if this is how you like your Bach.
If you want a more "classical" choral sound, then a recording like the "Robert" Shaw/Atlantic Symphony recording would be a better choice.
Actually my picks on "modern" instruments instead of the Shaw would be.....
Soloists...Auger, Murray, Lipovsek, others...
Leipzig Radio Chorus/Staatskapelle Orchestra, Dresden, conducted by Peter Schreier.
On Philips 432 972-2
Soloist, Marchall, Ramey, Baker, Tear, others...
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-fields/Neville Mariner conductor....
On Philips 416 415-2
If you like an historically informed performance, but find the Gardiner too "light" (as suggested by Sugarbrie and in which I agree), consider the superb performance by Harnoncourt and the Concentus Musicus Wien on Teldec (Elektra/Asylum - #95517).
This is Harnoncourt's first performance of the Mass in b-minor, recorded in 1968. Of the various performances of this work in my collection, this is the recording I keep returning to.
Please forget any recording of this greatest piece on earth and try to get Thomas Hengelbrock conducting the Balthasar Neumann Choir and the Barockorchester Freiburg. It might not be in stock in the US but DO ask for it. When they got to the moon they should be able to get this CD for you!
You won't regret going through any trouble getting it!
If you want the recording Aida_w mentions, and it is not available in the US, then check the UK Tower Records website which is:
They will ship to the US from the UK store. It is not much more for regular air mail shipping.
I have bought quite a few "unavailable" CDs this way.
The Collegium Vocale under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe come the closest to capturing the beauty and devotional spirit of Bach's choral works. How? Difficult to say exactly, but the fact that Herreweghe combines authentic instrumentation, etheric choral tone, period-sized forces, fine soloists and stately rhythms (no windshield wiper tempi here, as you will hear in the Gardiner) doesn't hurt. The Collegium Vocale/Herreweghe also have quite successfully recorded Bach's Magnificat and Easter Oratorio.
I mean no disrespect to anyone; but how does anyone know what does or does not capture the way the work sounded in the year 1750. Is there a 253 year old recording available; or is there anyone still alive from 1750 who went to a performance, who can attest to these claims?? All there is are self-anointed "experts".
The only facts I know of is; in 1750 it was a lot harder, or next to impossible in some areas to put together an orchestra of highly trained musicians and singers. There was also not a very good supply of quality instruments in a single area. So unless there are mistakes by some musicians and some instruments sound a little off, it probably is not historically correct.
It is just as likely, that if Bach were alive today, he would say...."With all the wonderful and superior equipment and musicians you have today, why are you playing my music on that old crap??"
Now, I do like the sound of many "historically correct" recordings. But has anyone ever insisted that their dentist use original instruments?
Well said, Sugarbrie!! The "authentic" stuff is often only interesting musicologically. Most of these recordings are bloodless, flimsy, thin and emotionless. Regarding the point of "not so good musicians" you are not correct, I'm afraid. The orchestras played on extraordinarily high levels (a Stradivari was not worth a million or more!!), as did the singers. Just look into the notes of the solo partitas: today a specialist's lifetime effort, in the time of Bach selfunderstood in the repertoire.
The fact that poor Johann Sebastian had to put up with the misfortune of being a teacher/conductor at the Thomaskirche with all its drawbacks is the reason for many "authentic" readings to copy these difficulties (strange, I agree). But it doesn't mean Bach would not have liked to hear his choral works in appropriate manner like he for sure heard his Brandenburg Concertos f.e.. In this respect the Hengelbrock
b minor Mass recording is the most "authentic": perfect in every way and realizing all we know about phrasing, dynamics, rhetoric gesture etc. of Bach's music. The live concert of this piece I attended a couple of weeks ago was even better than the CD. The choir sang by heart (!), the soloists were choir singers, in the orchestra there was an incredible musical intelligence which means that during every second everybody on the stage knew what each musician did at that very second, a "togetherness" very rarely heard and seen. There are only very few ensembles out there who perform like that. Only this way, however, the spirit of Bach's work is reflected to the fullest. Of course there is no such thing as a 253 year old recording but we have sources galore how the musicians used to play at the time AND how Bach wanted the musicians to perform!
I actually mostly agree Aida....
My comment on hard to get good musicians is based on some personal letters that exist from some of the old masters, where they complain to friends on the lack of good players (in some places). Mozart was a big complainer. Beethoven was never happy with the quality of pianos.
Actually orchestras and choruses in that era were very small compared with today. I am sure partly due to supply.
Try playing a Stratavari with the old gut strings in a drafty old church or building with no environmental controls. See how long it stays in tune.
Many old works were considered unplayable in their day. Now any conservatory student can play them. Many solo works were composed for one particular soloist. It would have been harder for others. Now there are lots of people who can perform or sing them no problem.
back to the original QUESTION.
I have spent a lot of time listening to many of the versions recommended here. (btw Sugarbrie, thanks for the recommendation of 1 I have not heard: Leipzig Radio Chorus/Staatskapelle Orchestra, Dresden, conducted by Peter Schreier. I will search for it.)
all are very worth hearing. and the more you listen to different versions the more you know the piece, so re-listening to 1st you tried, 2 months later after discovering 5 more, is enlightening. you hear it with new ears! having said that, the single most incredible recording of the Mass that I've heard is the Thomas Hengelbrock (conducting the Balthasar Neumann Choir and the Barockorchester Freiburg) that Aida_w pointed out. as I wrote to a good friend after first hearing it:
"Good lord, I can't believe the Hengelbrock B Minor.
The interlacing of the voices with the instruments is unlike anything I've ever heard...
...the instruments sound more out front to me, as to be
in a perfect relationship with the voices."
I would only add that it stands for me as possibly the most amazing recorded performance of ANYTHING I've ever heard. no kidding: find it!
Though I agree with Sugarbrie and Aida on the sound of the "historical instrumentation" recordings (Hornoncourt and Gardiner), I have to agree with Mrwigglewm's recommendation on the Bach here. The Herreweghe recording does not sound like other "orginal intrument" orchestras. But you definetly do not want the orchestra to present the music with the expression like a Beethoven symphony, like a modern orchestra. Bach did not write for large orchestra. Herreweghe's conducting definetly draws you into the music and time stops. Aida's recommendation of the Hengelbrook/Barockorchestra definetly looks worth checking out as another "must-have". The Schreier/Leipzig may be of interest as well. Tweekerman
Hogwood and Pinnock are the other 2 "authentic" recordings that just don't do anything for me. Tweekerman
Schreier/Leipzig takes the Gold. The Leipzig chorus is definetly better than the Herreweghe. Schreier's recording is pleasing in all areas. Now Sugarbrie's recommendation on Philpls label i did not like much. The one i prefered is on Berlin Classics 2123. Its a deferent orchestra and chorus. His recording of the Mozart Requiem on Philips I did not like that much either. Tweek
Thanks to everyone for your responses. I'm quite new to classical and therefore greatly apreciate all of your comments and recommendations. I think I'll request 2 or 3 from inter-library loan and then purchase the one thatI like best. Thanks again!
It's funny because I sing in a professional choir. On pieces like this, I am more picky about how the chorus and soloists sound more than the orchestra. I think I will check out the Herreweghe also.
Sugarbie, the Herreweghe definetly has that "orginal intrrument" sound to it. Which i don't care for as well. And the chorus section is not even close to the Chorus performance in the Schreier/Leipzig recording. There are 2 Schreier/Leipzig recordings. Get the one i recommend up above.
Thanks Tweekerman....Schreier is actually more famous in Europe as a baritone soloist, than a conductor. I like what he does with the choirs he conducts. His background helps him really understand singers.
I've sung under "orchestra" conductors who could care less about how the chorus performs. They hardly even look at the singers (if ever), and offer no assistance. With so many singers, if only a few enter early or late, it really affects the sound. Other than the obvious ones like Robert Shaw; people like Colin Davis and Neville Marriner do a good job with big Choirs. Those recordings with Trevor Pinnock are small choirs; many under 40 singers, down to around a dozen in some.