JS Bach: Lutheran Masses, Vol. II

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ALBUM TITLE: JS Bach: Lutheran Masses, Vol. II
WORKS: Lutheran Masses
PERFORMER: The Sixteen/Harry Christophers


Harry Christophers didn’t have to find a ‘unique selling point’ to make his discs of Bach’s Lutheran Masses stand out from the crowd. Despite commendable recordings from Ensemble Pygmalion, The Purcell Quartet and Ton Koopman, the catalogue scarcely musters a crowd. Yet find a USP is exactly what Christophers has done.

Volume One wrapped the Masses in G minor and F around Cantata No. 102, which supplied some of their source material. This Second Volume, in turn, frames Cantata No. 79 with the Masses in G and A, both of which are in its debt. In the case of the Mass in A, BWV 234 the cantata’s first alto aria is shorn of its oboe obbligato, enriched with strings and remodelled to accommodate the words of the penultimate movement of the Gloria. The cantata’s opening chorus, meanwhile, has all the jubilant horns and timpani pomp and circumstance sucked out of it to yield a consummately transparent and intimate opening Gloria for the Mass in G.

This is a fascinating lesson in the art of creative transcription by a master transcriber. Both Masses bring out the relaxed and avuncular in Christophers, (though the timpani in the opening chorus of the cantata sounds positively belligerent), and the transitions between the A major Gloria’s mellifluous solo passages and more animated four-part writing are deliciously easeful. With scrupulous instrumental underpinning, a natural recorded sound, and Julia Doyle’s ravishing ‘Qui tollis’, this is a worthy successor to Vol. 1.


Paul Riley