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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750): Missae breves (BWV 233-236), Sanctus & Christe eleison

[I] "Lutheran Masses I"
Hana Blazikováa, Joanne Lunnh, soprano; Robin Blaze, altoabh; Gerd Türk, tenorabh; Peter Kooij, bassabh
Bach Colegium Japan
Dir: Masaaki Suzuki
rec: Sept 2013, Kobe, Shoin Women's University Chapelabef; Sept & Oct 2014, Saitama, Arts Theatre Concert Hallcdgh
BIS - 2081 (© 2015) (65'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Missa in G (BWV 236)a; Missa in g minor (BWV 235)b; Sanctus in C (BWV 237)c; Sanctus in D (BWV 238)d; Sanctus in D (E) (BWV 241)e; Sanctus in G (BWV 240)f; Francesco DURANTE (1684-1755): Kyrie in c minorg & Johann Sebastian BACH: Christe eleison in g minor (BWV 242)h

[II] "Lutheran Masses II"
Hana Blazikováab, Joanne Lunnc, Aki Matsuic, soprano; Robin Blaze, alto; Yusuke Fujiic, Katsuhiko Nakashimab, Gerd Türk, tenorc; Peter Kooijab, Dominik Wörnerc, bass
Bach Colegium Japan
Dir: Masaaki Suzuki
rec: Feb 2014ab & Feb 2015c, Kobe, Shoin Women's University Chapel
BIS - 2121 (© 2015) (71'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & liner-notes

Johann Sebastian BACH: Missa in F (BWV 233)a; Missa in A (BWV 234)b; Marco Gioseppe PERANDA (1625-1675): Missa in a minorc

Scores JS Bach

This year (2017) the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation is celebrated. This was a true revolution which fundamentally changed both the religious and the political landscape of Europe. It also had a far-reaching influence in the arts and in music. The whole oeuvre of composers such as Schütz, Buxtehude or Bach would have been completely different, had the Reformation not taken place.

However, Luther never intended to completely break away from the past. He emphasized the importance of congregational singing and of hymns in the vernacular. But in his writing of hymn texts he often turned to traditional chant which he translated into German and whose content he adapted when it included elements which were incompatible with his doctrines. In his choice of melodies he preferred those which the faithful were familiar with. It is also notable that collections of motets which were published in the early 17th century for use in church and especially in schools, included pieces by Catholic composers, sometimes in Latin. The latter which was the dominant language in church until the Reformation, was not completely extinguished either. Liturgical practice varied from one church to the other, and depended on the musical facilities. In larger churches the Kyrie and Gloria were sung in Latin by a choir, followed by the hymnic version of the Gloria, Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr, sung by the congregation which always sang the credal hymn Wir glauben all an einen Gott.

Bach's oeuvre includes four missae breves which consist of Kyrie and Gloria, as well as various settings of the Sanctus. However, in his liner-notes to the present two discs, Klaus Hofmann states that there is no firm evidence that the masses were written for performances in Leipzig. "In the literature about Bach it is occasionally suggested that they might have been produced for performances outside Leipzig, perhaps in response to commissions." The four masses date from 1738/39 whereas the settings of the Sanctus are from different periods in Bach's life.

Every mass comprises six movements: the Kyrie is followed by the Gloria which is divided into five sections. For every single section Bach made use of music which he had written earlier in his career, mostly from the cantatas which he composed during his first years in Leipzig. Of the total of 24 sections only in four cases no source can be found, but it is assumed that these are from compositions which have been lost. The Kyrie from the Missa in F (BWV 233) is taken from an earlier (lost) Kyrie (BWV 233a). It represents the earliest music in these masses, at least among the movements whose origins can be identified. BWV 233a was probably written in Weimar or Mühlhausen, but musically it refers to the stile antico of the renaissance. Two parts of this mass are from the Cantata BWV 102 (Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben) and one from Cantata BWV 40 (Darzu ist erschienen der Sohn Gottes). Two sections have not been identified. The same goes for two sections - including the Kyrie - from the Missa in A (BWV 234), whereas four cantatas delivered the material for the other parts: BWV 67, 79, 136 and 179. The Missa in A (BWV 235) begins with a Kyrie which is an adaptation from Cantata BWV 102; four movements are taken from Cantata BWV 187 (Es wartet alles auf dich), whereas the remaining part is derived from Cantata BWV 72 (Alles nur nach Gottes Willen). Cantata BWV 79 (Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild) is the source of two parts from the Missa in G (BWV 236); two further parts are from Cantata BWV 179 (Siehe zu, daß deine Gottesfurcht) and the two remaining sections are from Cantatas BWV 17 and 138.

The masses are scored for four voices and instruments. The scoring of the solo sections is different: the Masses in F and in A have solos for soprano, alto and bass, the Mass in g minor for alto, tenor and bass and the Mass in G has solos for tenor and bass and a duet for soprano and alto. The latter two masses have the same instrumental scoring: two oboes, strings and bc. The two other masses have different scorings which results in a strong contrast in character. The Missa in F is scored for two horns, two oboes, bassoon, strings and bc, whereas the Missa in A has two transverse flutes, strings and bc.

The various settings of the Sanctus also show quite some differences. The shortest is the Sanctus in C (BWV 237) which has the largest instrumental scoring: three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, strings and bc; it dates from 1723. In that same year or in 1724 Bach composed the Sanctus in D (BWV 238). The instrumental scoring is remarkable: four violini unisoni and bc; "[in] performance, however, he also used a cornet and strings to reinforce the vocal lines", Hofmann states, without referring to the source. The scoring of the Sanctus in G (BWV 240) is the same as in two of the missae breves: two oboes, strings and bc. The score has been preserved in Bach's own hand, without the name of the composer. Hofmann suggests it could be an arrangement of a piece by someone else. That is certainly the case with the Sanctus in D (BWV 241 which is taken from the Missa Superba by Johann Caspar Kerll. The original parts show that it was performed in E; the scoring is for eight voices in two choirs, with two oboi d'amore, bassoon, strings and bc. If one has a look in the Schmieder catalogue one will find a Sanctus in d minor (BWV 239). This is not included here; it is not mentioned in the booklet and therefore I can't tell why it was excluded. Wolfgang Helbich included this piece in a recording of apocryphal pieces (CPO, 2009), but I can't find any confirmation that this piece is considered spurious.

In Leipzig Bach often performed music by other composers, not only from his own time (Telemann, Keiser) but also from previous generations, such as Pez and the above-mentioned Kerll, and even much older music (Palestrina). Sometimes he arranged a composition, for instance in regard to instrumental scoring. An interesting example is the Missa in a minor by Marco Gioseppe Peranda. He was born around 1625 in Rome or in Macerata and entered the service of the court as an alto singer somewhere between 1651 and 1656. By 1661 he became vice-Kapellmeister; two years later he succeeded Vincenzo Albrici as Kapellmeister. When Schütz died in 1672 he was succeeded by Peranda as first Hofkapellmeister. During his time in Weimar Bach acquired a copy of a Kyrie from a Mass in c minor by Peranda. We also have a set of parts in Bach's hand of the Kyrie from this Missa in a minor. It seems that he also owned the Gloria, but his copy has been lost; it has been preserved, though, in another manuscript from around 1700 which probably belonged to Johann Gottfried Walther. An early 19th-century score which could be based on a performance in Bach's later years in Leipzig, shows additions of wind instruments. In this recording both the Kyrie and Gloria are performed in the original instrumental scoring of two violins, three violas, bassoon and bc. This is a typical specimen of instrumental scoring of the 17th century in Germany; especially the strong viola section is notable. Hofmann states that "Peranda's supreme contrapuntal skill" must have been the reason that this work draw Bach's attention. It is a particularly nice addition to this set of discs and is probably recorded here for the first time.

The Christe in g minor (BWV 242) also documents Bach's interest in music by other composers, but in a different way. In Bach's own hand a score of an anonymous Missa in c minor has been preserved which was included in the appendix of the Schmieder catalogue (Anh 26). This work has been identified as being composed by the Neapolitan Francesco Durante. However, the Christe eleison has the addition di Bach which indicates that it is an original work. It is notable that Bach decided to replace the original - which was for the tutti - with a duet for soprano and alto. There is a clear similarity here with the Mass in b minor (BWV 232) whose Christe is for two sopranos.

The fact that the four missae breves are recorded here together with the Sanctus settings and the Christe eleison is a very good selling point. This is probably the first time that these pieces are put together. Add to that the Peranda Mass and one understands that these two discs are highly recommendable in regard to repertoire. To that one can add the performances which are outstanding. Masaaki Suzuki has always had a good taste for singers: his soloists almost never disappoint due to unstylish aberrations, such as an incessant vibrato or poor German pronunciation. In addition they blend perfectly which is especially important as they also take part in the tutti. In these recordings the choir comprises five singers per part, in contrast to the cantatas which were mostly performed with three voices per part. I don't quite understand this decision and I would prefer a quartet of solo voices with four additional ripienists. But the choral sound is very transparent which makes it easy to follow the various parts in the sometimes quite dense choral sections, for instance the fugal Kyrie from the Missa in G. The playing of the orchestra and the obbligato parts for violin and oboe is also very good.

All in all this is a admirable set of discs which every Bach lover should add to his collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

Bach Collegium Japan

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