Bach: Lutheran Mass in G minor, BWV 235; Lutheran Mass in A, BWV 234

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COMPOSERS: Bach
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Lutheran Mass in G minor, BWV 235; Lutheran Mass in A, BWV 234
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Mark Padmore (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass); Purcell Quartet, etc
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0642
For a long time Bach’s four Missae or Lutheran Masses, BWV 233-36, were largely ignored by performers and scholars alike. Because they were parodies – ie comprised of music Bach had previously written for other occasions – they were dismissed as minor works of little intrinsic value. Yet they contain music of exceptional beauty.

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The two on this disc are similar in structure. A choral Kyrie is followed by a Gloria in which three central arias are framed by a choral ‘Gloria in excelsis’ and ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’. The A major is especially striking, with its unusual tripartite Kyrie and a haunting ‘Qui tollis’ for soprano and edgy, dissonant flutes.

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The Purcell Quartet and their four solo singers (supported, when required, by additional strings and winds) adopt a minimalist, one-to-a-part approach that brings mixed results. Greater textural clarity is offset by a diminution of power at crucial points. The performers, though generally impressive, are not helped by a close recording that is unflattering at times and often distorts ensemble balance. Philippe Herreweghe’s 1990 Virgin Veritas recording of these two Missae is altogether more mellifluous and, with outstanding singers (Mellon, Lesne, Prégardien, Kooy), remains my top choice. Graham Lock