Following his traversal of Bach’s Cantatas and concurrently with
his planned complete survey of Buxtehude, Ton Koopman has turned
his attention to Bach’s Latin Church Music; this 2-CD set is billed
as Volume 1. Presumably Volume 2 will contain the B minor Mass,
the Christe eleison, BWV242 and the Credo, BWV1083;
perhaps, too, the original version of the Magnificat, BWV243a.
The four short Latin Masses would have been used
on high days and holidays as part of the Lutheran principal
service, the Hauptgottesdienst. Only the opening movements,
Kyrie and Gloria were set, the Creed being sung
by the whole congregation in Luther’s German paraphrase, Wir
glauben all an einem Gott. Similarly, the Latin Magnificat
would have been sung at Lutheran Vespers on principal festivals,
the German version, Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn, being
employed on more mundane occasions.
You may have read that these Lutheran Masses contain
recycled music from the Cantatas, which is true, and perhaps
assumed that they are therefore not worth hearing, which is
most assuredly not true. They are wholly made up of re-used
materials, but what wonderful materials they are. If we rejected
everything by Bach or Handel which consisted of self-borrowing,
we should lose some very worthwhile music – the Christmas
Oratorio, to name but one work in parts of which Bach recycled
his own music.
How masterfully he performed the recycling is demonstrated
by his re-use of the Passiontide O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
in a totally different context in the Christmas Oratorio.
Indeed, the tune pre-dates Bach – I think its ultimate source
is Innsbruck ich muß dich lassen – so should we eschew
parts of the St Matthew Passion as borrowed music? I think not.
Of the music on these CDs, only the Sanctus, BWV232,
may be judged less than wholly successful – and that is certainly
worth hearing, not just in order to compare what happened to
its music in the B minor Mass.
Last year, to general acclaim, Harmonia Mundi issued
a 2-CD set of Bach’s Missæ Breves, i.e. these four short
Lutheran Masses (Cantus Cölln/Konrad Junghänel, on HMC90 1939.40),
which I purchased soon after its issue. I did not regret the
purchase and was happy to give away my older Rilling recordings
– reliable performances but outclassed by the newer versions.
I hardly expected a rival to appear so soon, nor did I expect
it to present such a strong challenge.
Experience suggests that there are two Ton Koopmans
– the one turns in faultless or nigh-faultless performances
which silence criticism – the other, an occasional intruder,
drives the music too hard. The first Ton Koopman directs my
all-time favourite set of the Handel Organ Concertos, the second
makes an occasional appearance on a CD of Christmas Organ Music
which I reviewed last year. (Puer nobis nascitur, CC72234
– see review).
Having listened once through uncritically and come to the conclusion
that these new recordings sounded like Koopman at his unbeatable
best – no sign of what I described last November as Koopman’s
Technicolor excess – I was not surprised to see the set hailed
as Recording of the Month by another reviewer.
The new set starts with one large advantage and
one large disadvantage. Whereas the Junghänel set is rather
short value at 110 minutes, the Koopman newcomer is forty minutes
longer, including, in addition to the four short masses, the
Magnificat on the first CD, the Gloria, BWV191,
and the first version of the Sanctus which eventually
became part of the great B minor Mass on the second.
The disadvantage is that, whereas the Harmonia
Mundi booklet includes texts and translations, together with
a detailed table of the Cantata movements which correspond to
the sections of the Masses, the Challenge booklet is devoid
of any texts and lists only the numbers of the relevant Cantatas,
not the actual sections. Yes, of course, the texts of the Kyrie
and Gloria of the Mass and the Magnificat are
pretty well known and easy to obtain, but this is another example
of the cheese-paring which is becoming all too common even with
full-price CDs. I have recently had cause to complain of Challenge
Classics’ meanness in not providing texts of the Cantatas on
another Koopman recording (CC72282). Now they don’t even tell
us where and when the recordings of the Latin Music were made.
Koopman’s and Junghänel’s tempi are very similar
in the Mass in F, as the table shows – Koopman marginally faster
in some sections, Junghänel in others.
The same pattern applies to the three other masses.
What really matters is that both sound absolutely
right within the terms of their own readings as a whole. Koopman’s
tempo for the opening Kyrie of BWV233, for example, may
look rather hurried on paper, but this is far from a penitential
setting and neither conductor makes it sound dreary. If anything,
Koopman’s slightly faster tempo sets the mood for the overall
performance marginally more effectively, but I must emphasise
that I could happily live with either. This is the one movement
in the four Masses ‘borrowed’ not from a Cantata but from an
existing work which set the words of the Kyrie and a
German paraphrase of the Agnus Dei, Christe, du Lamm
Gottes/Der du trägst die Sünd der Welt,/erbarm dich unser
(BWV233a), composed between 1708 and 1717.
Koopman consistently takes the Kyrie movements
faster than Junghänel, generally to their advantage. Even the
Kyrie of BWV236, where the contrast is most pronounced
– 2:24 against 3:35 – does not sound rushed. The original text
which this music accompanied comes from the opening of Cantata
No.179: Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei
sei, und diene Gott nicht mit falschem Herzen! – take care
that all your piety is not hypocrisy; do not serve God with
a faithless heart – which adds further justification to Koopman’s
forceful pace here.
Even the most serious moments in Bach’s music rarely
lend themselves to over-serious interpretation, as even the
‘heavier’ interpreters of the older school, such as Karl Richter,
realised. Richter’s interpretations are still well worth hearing,
though DGG appear to have deleted most of the box sets in which
they were reissued, but newer interpreters such as Koopman and
Junghänel are usually more effective in pointing the lighter
side of the music. I noted in my recent review of Koopman’s
performance of Cantata No.54 (CC72282) how both he and Philippe
Herreweghe on a rival version demonstrated that
beautiful, enlivening singing and a clear moral message can
go hand in hand.
the first, ultra-reliable, Ton Koopman is in charge, detailed
analysis is well-nigh superfluous. Almost the only thing which
jarred was the pronunciation of the hard g in Agnus
and agimus; Koopman’s singers at least have standard
German practice on their side in this matter, but I still prefer
the Italianate pronunciation. Perhaps track 9, the Sicut
erat in principio section of the Gloria, BWV191,
is arguably marginally too fast.
Harmonia Mundi and Challenge Classics offer depictions of Martin
Luther on the cover, the former in colour (Lucas Cranach), the
latter in Aldegrever’s woodcut of 1540. Apart from the omission
of the texts and recording dates/venues, the Challenge booklet’s
brief but informative notes by the Bach scholar Christoph Wolff
are at least the equal of those by Peter Wollny for Harmonia
ousted Rilling from my collection in accordance with the rule
that I have no room to keep two versions of anything. Does the
new Koopman now oust the Junghänel? Every rule, of course, has
its exceptions and Bach is one – a necessary one in the case
of the Cantatas, since the couplings of rival versions make
duplication necessary. At present, I cannot bring myself to
decide between Junghänel and Koopman and it may well be that
I shall leave matters thus. As I wrote in that recent review
of Koopman’s recording of the works for alto and tenor, there
is nothing like listening to Bach’s Cantatas – not a dud among
them, despite the rate at which he churned them out – and the
same is true of all the music on this CD. With such wonderful
music on offer, in such fine performances and so well recorded,
I see no reason not to recommend this new recording in the strongest
don’t already have a good version of the Magnificat, clearly
you should go for Koopman. Of the many versions of this work which
I have heard, with or without the Christmas verses (without them
here) this is one of the most convincing. I should, however, add
that there is an excellent and more economical version of the
Magnificat, performed by the Taverner Consort and Players
under Andrew Parrott, on a super-bargain Virgin Veritas twofer, with the Easter Oratorio
and Cantatas 4, 11/249b and 50 (5616472, around £8-£9 in the UK).
have a Magnificat with which you are satisfied, you can’t
go wrong with Koopman’s or Junghänel’s version of the Masses.
There is also another version of these which has received general
critical approval and is now very keenly priced, albeit only in
a 4-CD (5617212) or 5-CD (3728562) collection, that of Philippe
Herreweghe on Virgin. I haven’t heard these performances and I
should warn you that I have seen the recording described in some
reviews as over-reverberant.
tempted to downgrade this Koopman recording to a mere thumbs-up
because of the lack of texts, but it would be unreasonable not
to give it the highest accolade.