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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Lutheran Masses - Volume 2
Lutheran Mass in A major, BWV 234 [29:52]
Lutheran Mass in F major, BWV 233 [24:01]
Marco Gioseppe PERANDA (1625–75)
Missa in A minor [16:42]
Hana Blažiková (soprano) (BWV 233, 234)
Joanne Lunn and Aki Matsui (sopranos) (Peranda)
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor) (BWV 234)
Katsuhiko Nakashima (tenor) (BWV 234)
Gerd Türk and Yusuke Fujii (tenors) (Peranda)
Peter Kooij (bass) (BWV 233, 234)
Dominik Wörner (bass) (Peranda)
Bach Collegium Japan (chorus and orchestra)/Masaaki Suzuki
rec. February 2014 (Bach), February 2015 (Peranda), Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan
BIS BIS2121 SACD [71:30]

This is the eagerly anticipated second volume of Bach’s Lutheran Masses, performed by the Bach Collegium Japan, under their director Masaaki Suzuki; I reviewed Volume 1 last year.

Unlike the well-known B minor Mass, in which Bach set the entire Latin Ordinary, the four Lutheran Masses (BWV 233-236), or Missa brevis as they are sometimes referred to, give us the Kyrie and Gloria only. Unjustly, they are not frequently performed or recorded, and have remained in the shadow of the B minor work. They were composed between 1737 and 1748 whilst he was Cantor of the Thomasschule at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. This was a position he was appointed to in 1723 and which he held until his death in 1750. Martin Luther's reforms had brought about fundamental changes to the structure of the Roman Catholic liturgy, where the sermon took on a central role, and German replaced Latin, with the option that some parts of the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei) could be retained in Latin. In Bach’s day, the Kyrie and Gloria tended to be sung figuraliter (in several voices), with the Sanctus being reserved for special high feast days, also sung figuraliter.

A tireless recycler, Bach rearranged material from his cantatas for these ‘parody’ masses. They are both six-movement works and, being relatively short in duration, are compositionally focused and perfectly formed. Suzuki’s chorus is bright and vibrant, and the instrumentalists blend in discreetly. The performances are agreeably paced, with phrasing and dynamic gradients both idiomatic and superbly achieved. Suzuki is an inspirational conductor, and he secures intense and heartfelt contributions from all concerned.

The Gloria of the A major, BWV 234 is joyous and uplifting and, in the Domine Deus which follows, Peter Kooij’s duet with the solo violin is an absolute delight. Hana Blažiková’s Qui Tollis peccata mundi is set against a pure diaphanous flute obbligato. Instrumental texture is kept light and luminous.

Of the two masses, I prefer the F major BWV 233. The Gloria is exquisitely sung, and is both uplifting and exhilarating. For those coming tentatively to these works, I suggest playing this movement (track 8) first. I can guarantee it won’t fail to win you over. Suzuki brings freshness and rhythmic drive to the performance, securing favourable results. Again, the bass aria Domine Deus, sung by Peter Kooij, is utterly convincing and assured. In fact, one of the disc's strengths is the compelling contributions from all the soloists.

As Cantor, Bach utilized the works of other composers, the Missa in A minor by Marco Gioseppe Peranda being one. Born around 1625, Peranda was a native of Macerata, and most likely received his musical education in Rome. Starting off as a viola player in the Dresden Hofkapelle, he eventually became vice-kapellmeister, then in 1663 one of three court kapellmeisters, a post he held until his death in 1675. His compositional oeuvre consists mainly of church music, but he also wrote some stage works. Bach took an interest in him, greatly admiring his contrapuntal skills, and acted as copyist for some of Peranda’s music. The Missa in A minor, consisting here of the Kyrie and Gloria, dates from the 1660s, and was later revised and extended to include all five parts of the ordinary mass.

The Missa conforms to the concertante style, prevalent in Dresden at the time, with full vocal and instrumental scoring. The work is divided into sections, each conveying different emotions and dispositions. The opening Kyrie is solemn but then the mood lightens. In the music which follows, Peranda’s expert contrapuntal skill is revealed in all its glory, and Suzuki and co. highlight the textures, allowing the polyphonic strands to be clearly heard. The beautifully rendered Laudamus te by the sopranos, contrasts with the Dominine Deus, Agnus Dei, richly articulated by the bass. There is so much vocal colour in this compelling reading.

Audio quality is top notch, as in volume 1, and the Kobe Shoin Women’s University Chapel, Japan confers a warm, resonant bloom to the sound, particularly sympathetic to highlighting the counterpoint. Annotations in English, German and French offer informative background to the music. With both volumes now available, these performances of the four Lutheran Masses will be hard to beat.

Stephen Greenbank


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