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Bach and the (Lutheran) Mass

Available at Amazon:
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J. S. Bach, Missae Breves, BWV 233-236, Cantus Cölln, K. Junghänel
(released July 10, 2007)
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901939.40
J. S. Bach made four late settings of the so-called Lutheran Mass (with only the Kyrie and Gloria), probably for his own use in the chuches of Leipzig, in the late 1730s. He cobbled together the movements mostly by recycling movements from his own cantatas, although as always Bach did more adaptation to the new context than might be expected from that description. Far from being only substandard self-plagiarizations, these Missae Breves are sublime examples of Bach's flexibility as a sacred composer.

This 2-CD new release from Cantus Cölln joins a field already replete with competition, from groups that span the range of national flavors of historically informed performance (HIP). The possibilities already out there range from American (J. Reilly Lewis and the Washington Bach Consort) to English (Academy of Ancient Music with King's College Choir, Purcell Quartet with Mark Padmore) and Belgo-French (Herreweghe with Lesne, Mellon, Crook). The best recordings remain the Dutch one with Ton Koopman's Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (with Sandrine Piau and Nathalie Stultzmann) and a sublimely German one by Helmuth Rilling (with Christine Schäfer and Thomas Quasthoff).

Cantus Cölln, founded in 1987 by lutenist Konrad Junghänel, has long been a favorite HIP ensemble, with a uniformly beautiful sound, vocal and instrumental, in many of their recordings. This recording conforms to the high standards we have come to expect, with a top-notch vocal octet singing the choruses and, individually and uncredited, the solo parts (with only one or two disappointments). The instrumental ensemble plays on original instruments and strikes an almost flawless ensemble with the singers, captured in exquisite sound in the church of St. Osdag in Neustadt. The only drawback is the price tag ($45.98 on Amazon at the moment, for two CDs), which will hopefully come down in the future.

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