There are at least ten recorded versions of each of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Little" or "Lutheran" Masses, with more than half of them located in massive sets that represent a major investment on the part of the consumer. As the field is not exceptionally crowded in terms of single-disc offerings, this is a good opportunity for a small, American chorus to set a stake down in the realm of Bach without having to go up against too many European heavyweights in this literature. This may have been part of the underlying strategy behind this Loft Recordings disc, The Bach Masses, Vol. 1, performed by the Washington Bach Consort under J. Reilly Lewis
The Bach Masses, Vol. 1, contains two of Bach's "Little" masses, those in F major (BWV 233) and G minor (BWV 235). Also included is an extremely rare Bach work, the Kyrie-Christe in F major, BWV 233a, composed in Weimar and found only on one other recording. Although the Mass in F major incorporates a revised version of this movement, BWV 233a predates the mass by at least two decades and has an entirely different solution. Lewis and the Washington Bach Consort give this little piece special attention, and it is the most affecting performance on the disc, but the rest of the music is quite good also. Among the soloists, the low voices particularly stand out, with fine work from alto Barbara Hollinshead and bass James Weaver. The sound recording, made at Omega Studios in Rockville, MA, is more than acceptable, belying the notion that sacred church music simply does not work unless it's recorded in a cathedral-type space.
Additional bonuses include terrific liner notes by Bach scholar Christoph Wolff, a difficult slog for the non-expert but extremely rewarding and informative for those who are diligent. The front cover, too, features the Weydenhammer Portrait Fragment of Johann Sebastian Bach in its first appearance on a record cover. Loft Recordings' The Bach Masses, Vol. 1, remains recommendable even to those who have earlier made the commitment and bought one of those big sets.