For his performances of Bach's so-called Lutheran masses, short mass settings of just Kyrie and Gloria, the version of the choral group the Sixteen delivered by conductor Harry Christophers really ought to be called the Eight. Christophers moves in the direction of the popular one-voice-per-part performance concept for Bach but does not fully embrace it; instead there are two voices per part, with the soloists drawn from the ranks of the choir. It's a reasonable compromise, and it does bring out a considerable amount of instrumental detail. In something like the big opening chorus of the Cantata No. 79, "Gott der Herr ist Sonn' und Schild" (BWV 79), the choir represents a dramatic fall-off in dynamics, but Christophers generally gets a surprisingly full sound out of his choristers. That cantata is included because, as on the first volume of the Sixteen's pair devoted to the Lutheran masses, it was raided by Bach for material. Most of the music in the Lutheran masses is recycled, which may account for their comparative lack of popularity, but to downgrade them is to misunderstand Bach's musical world, and there's considerable interest in the way German-language cantata texts were adapted for this remnant of Catholic ritual. Christophers is not a Bach conductor on the level of Suzuki or John Eliot Gardiner, and there can be a sweetness that grates. But both the overall concept and the execution are solid, and the soloists, with male altos, are generally impressive. Fans of the Sixteen may well wish to check out this new direction in the popular group's career.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Mass in G major, BWV 236|
|Cantata 79: Gott der Herr ist Sonn' und Schild, BWV 79|
|Mass in A major, BWV 234|