Ton Koopman

Bach: Latin Church Music, Vol. 1

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Why did Bach, a German Lutheran composer, write Latin church music? The churches for which he wrote music used Latin settings on certain major holidays and feast days. But there was another reason: Bach was a practical man, and music suited to the needs of the Catholic court of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden could (and in several cases did) do double duty. It makes sense to approach this distinctive aspect of Bach's output as a unit, and such is the aim of this double-disc set by Dutch historical-instrument specialist Ton Koopman, his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir, and a collection of veteran Baroque-oriented soloists from around Europe and Britain. In the words of the booklet, the album "collects a representative cross section of Bach's Latin church music that complements his extensive and rich repertoire of cantatas for the Sundays and feast days of the ecclesiastical year." The crown jewel of Bach's Latin church music, the Mass in B minor, BWV 232, is not included (and one assumes that a new traversal of that mighty work may be forthcoming from Koopman on a subsequent disc), but the listener does hear several of the smaller works (a Kyrie-Gloria pair and a Sanctus) from which it eventually took shape. There are several other Kyrie-Gloria masses, which were prescribed by Lutheran procedure, and the other high point of Bach's Latin output, the Magnificat, BWV 243. Among historically oriented performers of Baroque sacred choral music, Koopman's style lies at the opposite pole from those of the contemporary Italian groups that have treated operatic melody as the font of Baroque style. These Bach readings are restrained, utterly transparent, and beautifully consistent. The listener who likes lively dance rhythms and blaring triumph in the Magnificat should sample other versions. But the Mass in B minor has been one of Koopman's specialties over the years, and much of the music on this disc has the virtues of his stately performances of that work, with a superb sense of the long line in Bach and carefully sculpted integration of the soloists into the texture and into the larger conception of the piece. Sample the "Suscepit Israel puerum suum" from the Magnificat (CD 1, track 22) for an idea of the small-scale beauties Koopman always brings to Bach. There's something deeply satisfying about the whole two and a half hours of music: although some of it was indeed adapted from cantatas, it has a formal quality distinct from Bach's German music, and it fits Ton Koopman's approach to a T.

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