Bach's Mass in B minor has always been an enigma to me; it was one of the least approachable works by Bach for me. Big works are hard to digest, as more than one person can tell you: take, for instance, Bach's St. Matthew Passion, the St. John, or the "triple cantata" Christmas Oratorio. The cantatas, by comparison, are shorter affairs, in chunks that are more digestible by the mind. They also can combine the numbers for voices with those for instruments (aka sinfonias). The Mass in B minor, by comparison, is modeled after a Latin mass instead of the average Bach fan's more recognizable staple of cantata movements, in the form of a sinfonia, a few solos, recitatives, and a chorus or two. The Mass is a mixture of the kitchen sink: at once, it combines some of Bach's most old-fashioned models born out of the Renaissance with likely his most modern constructions. I question if it was even intended to be performed all at one time. * Kyrie * Gloria * Credo * Sanctus * Osanna * Benedictus * Osanna II * Agnus Dei The "simple" structure of a Latin mass is expanded into 27 tracks "or pieces" of music, by Bach. This performance from the MdL lasts 1 hour and 47 minutes. The scholars can argue whether it is a conceptual work, ala Kunst der Fuge, a job application, a showpiece, or something else altogether, such as a musical treatise. For many years I've grown up with Ton Koopman's reading on Erato with his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir. While there parts I really took to easily, such as his Credo, the playing and singing throughout failed to "hook me." And I honestly couldn't tell you if this was more Koopman and Co.'s fault, or J. S. Bach's! Based upon what I've already said, I think it's important to take any large-scale work and chunk-it in whatever size works for you. For me, that might be an entire Bach concerto vs. one movement of one by Beethoven. In terms of the B-minor, we can break up the mass movements, or even take one track at a time. And despite my writing this review at this time -- I'm still well along on my mission to warm up to the Mass in B minor. What's helped me digest this piece more has been this recording by Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble. First, the recorded sound is sublime. And Minkowski uses small singing forces compared to so many other performances currently available. Koopman, Parrot, Rifkin, et al., all had their chance to argue some time back in the late 1990s about whether Bach's music was intended for a chorus or by a collection of soloists. Minkowski takes on those thoughts again in his liner notes, but ultimately leaves the question unanswered, with us able to enjoy his result, the authenticity be damned. In this way, his release has a lot in common with McCreesh's St. Matthew Passion. In a good, digital recording you get clarity. No doubt, you miss here the volume in a live situation with soloists. But that's not so concerning to us, with our stereos (with their volume controls) at home and mixing consoles in the studio. The instrumental contributions, when called for, emerge from the fabric of sound with enthusiasm and verve. There's a horn solo to be had that's downright fiesty. So many times a recording makes a compromise between the instrumental forces or the singers; one is the predominant ensemble, the other has been brought-on just for this project. (To mind, this is how I reacted to more than one of Reinhard Goebel's recordings with MAK, most notably his collaborations with Anne-Sofie von Otter and his Lamentations CD of Heinichen.) In this case, Minkowski's singers and the instrumentalists that make up his band are on an equal footing. Both sound great in the recording, each have their appropriate balance, and not once is one "outdoing" the other in terms of quality. Minkowski definitely differs from Koopman in his choice of tempi, beyond the sound-world he's after. In some of the movements, the Frenchman is downright speedy. The worst case is the aforementioned Credo. I question if it's even legal! But he's not always a speed demon, he takes his time in other numbers. (By comparison, the Koopman recording is less than a minute longer than Minkowski's.) What I admire is his daring to have a strong voice on interpretation that's fairly exposed throughout the recording. He's a conductor that knows what he wants and delivers with good results. If I were to really do this recording justice with a review, I'd be listening to it a lot more, and comparing it too, with other recordings. Above all else, I'd know the piece. I'm not there yet. But what I can say, without reservation, is that this recording has rekindled my interest in Bach's Mass in B minor. And while I don't ever think sitting through the entire piece live would be completely palpable, I luckily can pick and choose my favorite chunks over and over. Therefore, I recommend Les Musiciens du Louvre recording of Bach's Mass in B minor, BWV 232. It might very well be one of the freshest versions I've auditioned since first acquiring Koopman's. It by all means beats the sound quality from Koopman's (by comparison, one ensemble is in your room, the other is 2 doors down in an echo chamber, with muddy diction as a result from an otherwise well-blended choir). The only leg up I can find via Koopman is the use of a male alto, which I prefer. I know I'm looking forward to getting to know both this performance and the piece itself more in the coming weeks. If it's unfamiliar Bach to you, let me know what you think of this work in the comments. Visit the wikipedia page on the mass here.