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BACH (1685 - 1750)
Mass in F major BWV 233 [28.50]
Mass in A major, BWV 234 [35.41]
Mass in G major, BWV 235 [29.34]
Mass in G minor, BWV 236 [32.21]
Sanctus in D minor, BWV 239 [1.47]
Sanctus in G major, BWV 240 [2.45]
Sanctus in D major, BWV 241 [2.10]
Sanctus in D major, BWV 238 [3.23]
Christe Eleison in G minor, BWV 242 [2.12]
Sanctus in C major, BWV 237 [1.46]
Wally Staempfli (soprano: BWV233,
234, 236 & 242) Nicole Rossier-Maradan
(mezzo: BWV236 & 242); Claudine Perret (alto: BWV233); Hanna Schaer (alto:
BWV234 & 235); John Elwes (tenor: BWV235 & 236); Philippe Huttenlocher
Ensemble Vocale de Lausanne
Orchestra de Chambre de Lausanne/Michel Corboz
rec. 1974 WARNER APEX 2564 69046-48 [70:21 + 73.42]
Bach’s Lutheran Masses - or Missae Breves as they are
described in this disc - have had rather a limited recording
history. There seem to have been five surviving mass settings,
the first of which turned into the Mass in B minor. The remaining
four are recorded here. The Lutheran liturgy allowed for the
use of settings of the Latin Kyrie and Gloria and that is what
They probably were written in the 1730s and their relative
neglect by performers is perhaps because Bach simply re-used
movements from his cantatas to create them. But they are rather
terrific pieces nonetheless everyone should consider getting
at least one decent recording of them.
The structure of the four masses is pretty standard; first
of all a choral Kyrie, subdivided into three movements (Kyrie,
Christus, Kyrie); almost all are fugal, all are solemn and
sober. The Gloria is subdivided into five movements; the opening Gloria
in excelsis Deo and the closing Cum sancto Spiritu are
choral, the remaining three movements are assigned to soloists.
On this disc, which was recorded in 1974, the Ensemble Vocal
de Lausanne are admirably sober in the austerely fugal Kyries.
Their account of the Kyrie of the F major mass is all you could
want it to be. But unfortunately in the following Gloria
in excelsis Deo they make extremely heavy weather of the
bouncy fugal number. You keep wishing that there were rather
fewer singers, making a rather lighter noise. This feeling
continues in the concluding Cum sancto Spiritu where
the chorus make a steady solid sound which is frankly too steady
and rather too stolid.
In the lovely Siciliano opening the Kyrie of the A major mass
the choir’s sound is rather too dated and too blowsy
for my taste. And in the Gloria in excelsis Deo movement
of the G major mass, the balance between chorus and orchestra
is poor, with the choral sound rather too recessed.
The orchestral contribution from the Orchestra Chambre de Lausanne
is reasonably fleet and lively with some attractive solo instrumental
contributions. But it is fatally flat footed, with the strings
determinedly keeping their bow firmly on the string and allowing
no air or bounce into the proceedings. I am not dogmatic about
period instruments but I do prefer my instrumental accompaniment
to bring lightness and air between the notes.
The vocal soloists are rather a similar mixed bag. Bass Philippe
Huttenlocher has a finely attractive focused voice and his
contributions are all a pleasure to hear. His Domine Deus in
the A Major Mass, with its solo violin, is particularly attractive.
Soprano Wally Staempfli contributes a moving Qui tollis in
the F Major mass, but in the same movement in the A major mass
she sounds rather squeezed at the top of her voice. In the
G major mass this movement is a delightful duet between Staempfli
and alto Nicole Rossier-Maradan.
Claudia Perret, who sings the alto solo in the F major Mass
has a big, firm, vibrant voice which sounds wonderful but very
old style. Hanna Schaer, the alto in the A major and G minor
sounds altogether rather too careful but really lets herself
down by the way she snatches breaths at the ends of the long
John Elwes is the mellifluous tenor in the G major and G minor
Masses. In the former his Quoniam tu solus Sanctus has
a lovely plangent oboe solo.
The masses are accompanied by five of Bach’s independent
Sanctus movements and a stray Christe eleison. These movements
make admirable bed-fellows but the similar strictures apply
to the choral sound as in the Masses.
This set got a good review in the Gramophone when it first
appeared in 1974 but frankly it is now showing its age. You
would be well advised to look elsewhere. The masses have been
recorded, one to a part, by the Purcell Quartet with Nancy
Argenta, Michael Chance, Mark Padmore and Peter Harvey and
these are the discs that I would go for. But if you don’t
fancy one voice to a part then try the 2008 recording from
Ton Koopman and his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir;
these discs would seem to be the current benchmarks.
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