BACH Sacred Music in Latin Vols 1 & 2. Various/Rilling (Hanssler) – INKPOT
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Edition Bachakadamie Vols.71 & 72
Sacred Music in Latin Vols.1 & 2
Answers to these questions will undoubtedly raise many others. Endless essays have been written by musicologists and historians about how the political climate during Bach’s time was strongly woven within the factions. We also do know that Bach was in the service of the courts and it was not unknown that Bach did at various times use his music to procure favours and to better his employment prospects.
Nonetheless, Bach was thoroughly familiar with the Latin language as formal education, religion and music training went hand in hand at those times; and one should understand that the original meaning of “Catholic” as equals to “Universal”. Hence it is a long shot to think that Bach’s writing in Latin had anything to do with denominational concerns. In fact, one can conclude that the obligation to retain the original wordings, the belief in a single universal church – were far stronger motivations for Bach.
Bach’s Latin music output comprises – in entirety – his Mass in B minor BWV 232, two versions of his Magnificat BWV 243 & 243a and festive music Gloria in excelsis Deo BWV 191. All others are included in these two albums. Hence, this pair makes a good research companion for anyone intent on collecting or studying Bach’s entire Latin output. Comprehensive notes are included!
One main issue surrounds the music of Volume 1 & 2. They are essentially ‘parody’ music. What this means is that a lot of the music you hear here can be found in other works with alternate BWV numbers.
It is common knowledge that Baroque musicians copy from themselves. They recycle pieces, reset them to different instruments or words; or else they add some ornamentation and combine various movements to make a ‘new’ work. How could the great Bach be guilty of self-plagerism? The leading music scholars of the day think this less an issue of limited creative powers. Obtusely, they consider this constant reworking a way of refining one’s immense creative output into ‘summation statements’ of sorts – an emblem of only the best thinkers in the trade of composition.
If one ignores this knowledge, one realises that not one measure of this music betrays the character of parody, instead each work has become a stronger work than the original. If one needs to know – Bach’s greatest works, the Mass in B minor and Christmas Oratorio are also well known ‘parodies’. Volume 1 differs from Volume 2 in that most of the source materials are generally less known than the familar tunes of Volume 2. Nonetheless, deeper textural essence await patient listeners in both discs.
Listen also to how Rilling (right) draws the close to the Kyrie eleison BWV 233a (Vol.1 Track 7) – the individual choral parts just wind into the concluding cadence in good graceful timing – nothing short of perfection! The Mass in G Minor BWV 235 (Vol.2) is filled with some of the most beautiful choruses I have ever heard. There is some roughness in the Kyrie eleison (Vol.2 Track 1) but it does little to stop this locomotive of sustained greatness.
Particular mention must be given to the oboe solo in Vol.2 Track 5 and the violin soloists in Vol.1 Track 5 & 10 respectively, who give us a Bachian touch associated with only the very best Bach instrumentalists.
The vocal soloists are of very good quality as well – Wolfgang Schöne deserves particular mention for his warm and succulent bass voice (Vol.1 Track 3). Further, Christine Schfer’s magical soprano voice is simply great beyond description. Ingeborg Danz is superb as the alto soloist throughout both CDs. She also sings a very beautiful duet with the equally superb Ruth Ziesak in Vol.2 Track 10 Dominus Deus, a style not dissimilar with the Christus eleison duet in the B minor mass. Here they blend perfectly. Not so in the short Christe eleison (Vol.2 Track 17) where Ingeborg Danz can be heard to change her register abruptly.
In the Gloria in excelsis Deo of Mass in A major (Vol.1 Track 9), I was surprised by Bach’s treatment of the solo voice in relation to the chorus – very rarely have I heard such an almost operatic treatment from Bach (except perhaps in his Secular Cantatas) The effect is sweetly ‘new’ and one should hear how Bach does it.
Wow! This is indeed track after track of great music! Hear also the Cum sancto spiritu (Vol.1 Track 13) – such inspired virtuosity – impossible to believe but true. To top it off, there is a collection of four different settings of the Sanctus, entirely different music set to the same words, which the interested can make comparisons into their music conception and structure – it actually leaves me gaping with amazement.
It is surprising that these works should have received so little attention. I would not hesitate to recommend that all Bach lovers get a copy of these works. They are essentials to your collection!! They have that finesse of composition which I associate with the best of Bach works and they have been too long snubbed for their ‘dubious’ origins as parody works. But in truth, these are all such superb masterpieces – the ones which display Bach’s creative powers at his most inspired! Indeed you will do yourself a disservice to ignore this powerful issue.
This collection bringing them together as a consistent set of works only serves to strengthen the inherent power of the individual parts. If one is looking for a positive argument for parody – one does not need to look elsewhere – simply sustained greatness in this production.
Ng Yeuk Fan takes a bow to Bach’s greatness. Really, I am impressed, thoroughly.
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735: 15.2.2000 Ng Yeuk Fan
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