COMPOSERS: JS Bach
LABELS: Channel Classic
WORKS: Magnificat in D; Unser Mund sei voll Lachens, BWV 110
PERFORMER: Dorothee Mields, Johannette Zomer (soprano), William Towers (alto), Charles Daniels (tenor), Stephan MacLeod (bass); The Netherlands Bach Society/Jos van Veldhoven
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 32010 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Bach’s Magnificat and his Cantata Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (Let our Mouths be full of Laughter) make comfortable bedfellows. Both were first performed on Christmas Day in Leipzig, in 1723 and 1725 respectively, and both include parts for trumpets, drums, flutes, oboes, bassoon, strings and continuo. For this recording, Jos van Veldhoven has chosen Bach’s later D major score of the Magnificat yet, rather oddly, punctuates it with four short interpolations by composers other than Bach himself.Bach did include four such Christmas pieces of his own in his earlier E flat version of the canticle but omitted them from his D major score.
Veldhoven adopts a comfortable tempo with somewhat laid-back articulation for the resplendent opening and concluding choruses. Rivals such as John Eliot Gardiner prefer a slightly brisker pace with crisper instrumental responses. Elsewhere, it proceeds comfortably but too often lacks the vital spark which illuminates versions by Philippe Pierlot, Masaaki Suzuki and Andrew Parrott; and, I feel that attractive though they are, the four interpolations are tonally and contextually awkward.
The Cantata fares better, yet there is a hint of lethargy in the resonant opening chorus. This is one of Bach’s masterstrokes in the art of parody (that is, reusing previously composed music) and will be more familiar to readers as the Overture to the Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D (BWV 1069) whose brisk middle section is treated vocally. These voices, though, are not quite as full of laughter as they should be and Gardiner, Suzuki and Nikolaus Harnoncourt offer more scintillating performances. The booklet perpetuates a glaring error by confusing Mond with Mund. A load of moonshine, perhaps. Nicholas Anderson