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Briefly Noted: Bach's Lutheran Masses from Japan

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J.S. Bach, Lutheran Masses, Vol. 1, J. Lunn, H. Blažíková, R. Blaze, G. Turk, P. Kooij, Bach Collegium Japan, M. Suzuki

(released on July 10, 2015)
BIS-2081 | 65'30"
Other than the famous B Minor Mass, with music for the entire Latin Ordinary, Bach set the so-called Lutheran Mass, which was only the Kyrie and Gloria from the Catholic service. Created during his tenure in Leipzig, these pieces are adaptations of Bach's own earlier music, mostly cantata movements. The last time these pieces were under review here, it was in the recording by Cantus Cölln with Konrad Junghänel (Harmonia Mundi, 2007). Now Masaaki Sukuki and Bach Collegium Japan have released the first volume of their recording, continuing to round out their complete Bach edition.

This disc has the first two of Bach's settings of the Lutheran Mass, and the delightful interpretation of BWV 235 has enough to recommend it. In the "Christe" section of the Kyrie, Bach does not mark the motif that runs through all the voices as staccato (but also not legato), but Suzuki has all the parts really separate the notes, to whimsical effect. Suzuki then smooths the return of the "Kyrie" section back out, a choice that accentuates the leaps up and down a tritone that come in the middle and at the end of the motif, which is also quite charming. BWV 236 is a less pleasing piece to my ear, more in a backward-looking style and with all five voice parts doubled by instruments. The reading of the "Quoniam" movement in the Gloria sounds a little off: the oboe solo sounds rhythmically unstable especially on the slurred 32nd-note motif, the tenor soloist is a little on the whiny side, and they do not always line up well.

Suzuki rounds out the disc with four little Sanctus movements, all short and sweet, especially BWV 241, which is a rather complex double-chorus confection. It also includes a version of the Kyrie, with the outer movements adapted from the work of Italian composer Francesco Durante, an interesting nod to Bach's interest in all sorts of other composers' work, from Palestrina onward. This disc comes on the heels of a recording of the Lutheran Masses by The Sixteen with Harry Christophers, which is mostly sung with one voice per part and some doubling to cover breathing in long phrases (Vol. 1 / Vol. 2). It is also good listening, but their reading of BWV 235 is just not as interesting: Christophers takes that "Christe" motif legato, with the last note kept short, probably more in keeping with the score, but once you have heard what Suzuki does, it is hard to forget.

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