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"Apocryphal Bach Masses II"

Gesualdo Consort Amsterdama; Solo quartet of the Hochschule für Künste Bremenb
Alsfelder Vokalensemble; Hannoversche Hofkapelle
Dir: Wolfgang Helbich

rec: March & May 2009, Blankensee, Johannische Kirche (Festhalle)
CPO - 777 561-2 (© 2012) (58'17")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

anon: Magnificat in C (BWV Anh 30)ab; Missa in G (BWV Anh 167)ab; Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (BWV 150)a; Sanctus in C (BWV 237); Sanctus in d minor (BWV 239); Sanctus in G (BWV 240); Johann Christoph PEZ (1664-1716): Missa in a minor (BWV Anh 24)

[GCA] Nele Gramß, soprano; Marnix De Cat, alto; Harry van Berne, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass
[Solo quartet HKB] Manja Stephan, soprano; Jan Moritz von Cube, alto; Jan Hübner, tenor; Carsten Krüger, bass

An important part of the work of musicologists is to assess the authenticity of compositions which are attributed to a certain composer. Many compositions of the 17th and 18th centuries have survived which bear the name of a then famous composer although they are often at odds with what we consider their style of composing. It is a tricky subject, because some compositions could be a reason to adapt our conception of their style. One of the composers with many compositions to his name which are probably composed by someone else is Johann Sebastian Bach. The Schmieder catalogue - referred to as BWV - includes an appendix in which various compositions are listed which are considered doubtful or spurious. The Neue Bach-Ausgabe which was only completed a few years ago has been quite radical in leaving out the dubious or publishing them in supplement volumes. In his liner-notes Peter Wollny rightly states that the effect can be that works in this category - many of which are of fine quality - are going to be ignored. That would be a shame as this disc goes to show.

German conductor Wolfgang Helbich has a strong interest in this kind of pieces. Since 1991 he has recorded five discs: two with cantatas, one with motets, one with a Magnificat and two masses and a disc with the St Luke Passion. For this sixth disc he has returned to masses and a setting of the Magnificat. Also included are three settings of the Sanctus and Cantata 150.

The programme opens with a large-scale mass. It is scored for 23 vocal and instrumental voices, divided over two choirs. Both choirs consist of a vocal quartet and a five-part instrumental ensemble of strings and wind. To the second choir a ripieno chorus is added. This mass is a so-called missa brevis, consisting of only Kyrie and Gloria. Bach himself wrote several such masses. Kyrie and Gloria were still very much part of the Lutheran liturgy in Leipzig. This Mass was performed in Leipzig in 1805 and made a huge impression. But later that century the Bach scholar Philipp Spitta already recognized that this wasn't an original piece by Bach, but rather a copy of an older work. The large scoring points into the direction of the 17th century, and Wollny suggests composers like Christoph Bernhard (1628-1692), Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725) or David Pohle (1624-1695) as possibles. It is easy to understand why this work made such an impression in 1805. Its grandeur suggests that it was written for a special occasion.

Very different is the other mass setting, again of the missa brevis type, with a very short Kyrie - in this recording 45 seconds - and a somewhat larger Gloria. The Bach scholar Hans-Joachim Schulze has succeeded in tracking down the real composer: Johann Christoph Pez, who worked in Munich and Stuttgart, and was influenced by the Italian style through a stay in Rome. The mass was originally published as the Missa S. Lamberti. Bach started to make a copy during his time in Weimar; the mass was performed in Leipzig during his first year as Thomaskantor.

The composer of the Magnificat in C is still not known. It is also a large-scale work for two vocal and instrumental choirs, including trumpets and timpani. Bach wrote out a score and parts in 1742; only the timpani part has survived. The work is divided into eight sections: the first, fourth and sixth are for tutti. In between come four duets, two per choir, for either soprano and bass or alto and tenor. The closing section is for solo voices and tutti. In the opening and closing sections the 6th psalm tone is incorporated in the upper part.

Not only the Kyrie and the Gloria, but also the Sanctus formed part of the Lutheran liturgy in Leipzig. The three settings on this disc have all come down to us in Bach's handwriting, but only the setting BWV 237 bears his name. It is the most brilliant of the three, scored for strings with trumpets and timpani. It dates from Bach's first weeks in Leipzig in 1723. The other two are for strings and bc, and date from around 1740. They are assumed to be arrangements of compositions by other composers.

The disc ends with Cantata 150 which has for quite some time been the subject of debate among Bach scholars. The main problem is that the text and the music refer to different stages in Bach's compositional development. The music suggests it is one of his earliest cantatas. At that time - when he also composed the Actus tragicus and Cantata 131 (Aus der Tiefen) - he only used biblical texts. In this cantata he makes use of free poetic texts, though. It begins with a sinfonia, and this is followed by six sections, the first, third and fifth of which are quotations from Psalm 25, set for the tutti. The first is followed by a short soprano aria, the third by a trio for alto, tenor and bass. The cantata ends with another tutti section with a basso continuo in the form of a ciacona. In 2010 Hans-Joachim Schulze published an article in which he argues that the authenticity can be established. The three sections with free poetry form an acrostic: "Doktor Conrad Meckbach". He was the mayor of Mühlhausen who in 1707 - not 1747 as the English translation of the liner-notes says - advocated the appointment of Bach as organist. If this is correct the composer could have paid tribute to his patron with this cantata. It has to be said that the acrostic is the result of some alterations in the text. How plausible these are I can't tell as I haven't read Schulze's article. This recording was made before he published the results of his research, and therefore the cantata is sung with the text which was used in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe.

This disc, like the previous ones in this series, contains fascinating stuff. It reveals the kind of music Bach was interested in and used for various purposes. Some such pieces may have been used in the liturgy in Leipzig. Others may have served as educational material for his pupils. The fact that he arranged several pieces shows what was common practice in regard to the use of older material. It was adapted to what was needed and to the performing forces at hand. In his arrangements Bach took into consideration the "capacity of those who are supposed to execute it", as he wrote in a letter to the city council in 1736.

The performances are excellent. The grandeur of the mass setting which opens this disc comes off perfectly, with a very good exposition of the rhythmic pulse. The choir is good and agile, but could have been a little smaller. That is also the case in Cantata 150. Whatever the experts think about the concept of the performance practice with one voice per part, there is wide agreement that the early cantatas were performed with very small forces. The two quartets of soloists do a fine job. The Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam is one of the best of its kind, and the four soloists from the Hochschule für die Künste in Bremen are all pupils of Harry van der Kamp, the Gesualdo Consort's director. A great amount of stylistic congeniality is one of the positive features of this recording.

In short, this is a disc with fascinating repertoire in outstanding performances.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Alsfelder Vokalensemble
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam
Hannoversche Hofkapelle

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