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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Mass in B minor, BWV 232 (1748/49) [123:00]
Maria Stader (soprano), Hertha Töpper (contralto), Ernst Haefliger (tenor), Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone), Kieth Engen (bass),
Münchener Bach-Chor, Münchener Bach-Orchester/Karl Richter
rec. 1961 Musikhochschule, Munich, Germany
Herz und mund und tat und leben, BWV147 (1723) [33:02]
Ursula Buckel (soprano), Hertha Töpper (contralto), John van Kesteren (tenor), Kieth Engen (bass)
Münchener Bach-Chor, Münchener Bach-Orchester/Karl Richter
rec. 1961 Münster zu Heilbronn, Germany (Cantata)
Texts in Latin and German, no English translations.
PROFIL EDITION PH13034 [3 CDs: 61:59 + 61:01 + 33:02]

This set begins with the Bach’s famous Latin Mass in B minor, BWV 232 a true masterwork written in 1748/49. Here Bach reused a considerable amount of earlier material. No one is sure why as a Lutheran Cantor he should have embraced the Roman Catholic Mass so enthusiastically. The work was never performed in Bach’s lifetime and it seems likely that the first complete performance was not given until around 1859 in Leipzig. 

Although we are not told in the booklet notes this Profil release of the Mass in B minor from 1961 directed by Karl Richter seems to be the same recording that was initially released on an Archiv Produktion vinyl set and is still available on Archiv Galleria 00289 427 1552. This account is not to be confused with Richter’s live 1969 Tokyo recording also on Archiv.
As their founder and artistic director Richter had been conducting the Münchener Bach Chor since 1954 going on to establish the Münchener Bach Orchester. With these forces Richter maintained an enduring and world renowned collaboration which I believe for many had no peers in this repertoire.
In the opening duet of the Kyrie, Christe eleison the voices of soprano Maria Stader and contralto Hertha Töpper blend quite beautifully to stunning effect. The renowned aria Laudamus te of the Gloria commences with a gloriously played violin obbligato. Here Töpper is in firm and committed voice coming across as especially reverential. In the Gloria section,Domine Deus, the glorious duet between Stader and tenor Ernst Haefliger is extremely well performed with their voices combining to sublime effect. There is a highly impressive contribution from Töpper in the Gloria, Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris revealing a clear tone, and a rich and expressive timbre that she can noticeably darken. I find the oboe d'amore obbligato quite enchantingly played. The tessitura of the Gloria aria, Quoniam tu solus sanctus tests the lower registers of sturdy bass Kieth Engen. I loved the obbligato horn and bassoon parts. In the Credo section eminent baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau effortlessly sings the aria Et in Spiritum Sanctum displaying his accustomed smooth, firm tone. The duet in the Credo, Et in unum Dominum is a wonderful experience with the outstanding voices of Stader and Töpper complementing each other so splendidly. Haefliger in his aria Benedictus, qui venit from the Sanctus, with its violin obbligato, is warm and respectful delivering the text with unerring assurance. I did however detect some slight wavering to his line. Töpper is smooth, secure and splendidly devout in her arias Qui sedes ad dextram Patris from the Gloria and in the Agnus Dei with its attractive violin obbligato. The Austrian contralto is in quite commanding voice and these are true highlights of the recordings.
Next the church cantata ‘Herz und mund und tat und leben’ (Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life), BWV 147 includes the choraleJesu, Joy of Man's Desiring’. According to author Julian Shuckburgh this work was composed in 1723 (‘Harmony and Discord:The Real Life of Johann Sebastian Bach’, Old Street Publishing London (2009)). It seems that Bach adapted it from an older cantata BWV 147a composed in 1716 which is now lost. This 1961 performance recording, said to be from Münster zu Heilbronn, appears to be the same as the one by Richter that I have on a disc titled ‘Famous Cantatas’ on Deutsche Grammophon 453 094-2. If this is the same recording then the Münchener Bach-Chor is performing with the Ansbach Bach Festival Soloists not the Münchener Bach-Orchester. I asked Hännsler for clarification but await a reply. Whatever the case this is a performance of the highest quality. The soloists provide a semi-sung quality to their recitatives as if almost treating them as arias. Demonstrating her superior aptitude for communication Töpper excels in her aria Schäme dich, o Seele nicht (Soul of mine, be not ashamed) with its charming oboe d'amore accompaniment. This is lovely secure singing of reverential intensity with avoiding any inappropriate sentimentality. I enjoyed the soprano aria Bereite dir, Jesu, noch itzo die Bahn (Prepare for Thy coming the way to our hearts) so delightfully sung by Ursula Buckel. It is however a touch fluttery at times and with some slight strain in her high sustained notes. The aria is introduced and is finely accompanied throughout by a lovely played violin solo. In the aria Hilf, Jesu, hilf, daß ich auch dich bekenne (Help Jesus, help that I may not deny Thee) with a prominent organ part in the basso continuo, tenor John van Kesteren with his bright and attractive timbre convincingly proclaims his steadfast belief in the Saviour. Spirited and fluid toned Kieth Engen fortifies his praise to Jesus in the aria Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen (Of Jesus am I ever singing) with its lovely part for trumpet. Justly famous the chorale movements No.6 Wohl mir, daß ich Jesum habe (Happy am I that I have Jesus) and No.10 Jesu bleibet meine Freude (Jesus remains my joy) are appealing, uplifting and gloriously performed.  

Recorded in 1961 the sound quality is clear and well balanced. I would be highly satisfied if these glorious recordings were the only accounts in my collection such is their superior quality.  

Michael Cookson