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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Latin Church Music - Vol. 1
CD 1
Missa in F BWV 233 (late 1730s) [23:27]
Missa in g BWV 235 (late 1730s) [26:08]
Magnificat BWV 243 (1723, rev.1732-5) [25:19]
CD 2
Missa in A BWV 234 (c.1738) [30:46]
Gloria in excelsis Deo BWV 191(1741-6) [14:48]
Missa in G BWV 236 (1738/9) [24:31]
Sanctus BWV 232 (1724) [5:09]
Johannette Zomer; Lisa Larsson; Deborah York; Caroline Stam; Elisabeth von Magnus (soprano); Bogna Bartosz (alto); Jörg Dürmüller; Paul Agnew; Gerd Türk (tenor); Klaus Mertens (bass)
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus/Ton Koopman
rec. 2005? Originally issued as part of Challenge Classics CC72222.
Booklet with notes but no texts or translations.
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC72188 [74:54 + 75:03]
Experience Classicsonline


I’ve been sitting on these recordings for quite a while now, unsure quite how to justify the praise I was ready to heap upon Ton Koopman’s recording of the Bachian Latin Masses. I acquainted myself with the scores, a little with their history, and finally with alternative recordings that I had not heard or not heard in a while. These works go by several names: Missae Breves, Lutheran Masses, or, as here on Ton Koopman’s two-CD set, lumped together under the category “Latin Church Music”. They have not enjoyed as much attention as the Cantatas or the B-minor Mass because they are almost entirely parodies of other Bach works. Unjustly so for they are, if anything, further refinements of existing masterpieces. A “Best of Bach” compilation by the master himself, if you will.

We know four of six parts from the Mass in F (BWV 233) from Cantatas BWV 102 and BWV 40. The other two are probably from one or more lost cantatas, rather than being original-but are de facto original to our ears. All six parts of the Masses in A (BWV 234), g (BWV 235) and G (BWV 236) occur elsewhere, namely in the Cantatas BWV 67, 72, 79 (twice), 102, 136, 138, 179 (also twice), and 187. Koopman also throws in the chorus from the Sanctus of BWV 232 III (from what would later become the Mass in B-minor, the Gloria BWV 191, and the Magnificat BWV 243.

Like the Missa (BWV 232a), the short masses are, well, cut short. Short masses in the Lutheran context means just going for the Kyrie and Gloria, skipping the Credo, Sanctus/Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. In the Catholic setting it usually just means skipping the Credo which, even where it is composed, is rarely performed as part of the service; being, instead, replaced by a Gregorian chant. The four short masses are different from the job-application “Missa” in that they are of more modest size, comparable to the cantatas, not the passions. Christoph Wolff, in the abbreviated liner-notes (no texts) that made it from volume 22 of his complete cycle into this convenient extraction, points out that the masses gave Bach “the opportunity to broaden his audience by including the Catholic court. But perhaps most importantly it let him extract from his large cantata repertoire some exemplary movements that, placed in a new context, would showcase his art of composition in a different, indeed enhanced way.”

The more widely recorded and performed Magnificat was Bach’s first large-scale work after his move from Köthen to Leipzig (1723), written for the Marian Feast and later revised to modernize the scoring. The Sanctus (1724) predates even the Missa (1733) and is the oldest part of what would be the Mass in B-minor. And the Gloria, written between 1743 and 1746, was intended for a Christmas Day performance, the exact circumstances of which are not yet known. Wolff suggests the peace treaty between Saxony and Prussia on that day in 1745. In it, Bach leans on the Missa for three movements. They are all performed as well as the short masses - and those are top drawer.

The performances kindled an instant love with these works and comparison to two of my favorite Bach conductors-Philippe Herreweghe (Virgin) and Konrad Junghänel (Harmonia Mundi) confirmed their excellence. I might not prefer Jörg Dürmüller over Christoph Prégardien (Herreweghe) in the G-major Mass, but Koopman’s other soloists (Deborah York, Johannette Zomer, Bogna Bartosz, Klause Mertens) leave nothing to be desired and his choir excels at all times. I also prefer Koopman’s usually swifter tempos compared to both, Herreweghe and Junghänel. And I prefer - marginally - the sound of the Challenge Classics recording - direct, but with a glow - over the slightly recessed resonance with Herreweghe and the Harmonia Mundi sound - also direct, but minus the glow. One should not forget the marvelous Purcell Quartet’s recording (Chandos); one of their earlier forays into Bach and at the time still radical for being One-Voice-per-Part. But even if I could somehow replace counter-tenor Robin Blaze with alto Bogna Bartosz, Koopman would remain my favorite account of these splendid works.

Brian Wilson’s MusicWeb International review accorded the set the designation of “Recording of the Month” with which I whole-heartedly concur.

Jens F. Laurson

see also review by Brian Wilson 
(June 2008 Recording of the Month)

 
 


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