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Further 18th-century masses to enjoy after Bach’s great masterpiece
Asearch for works to equal the magnificence of Bach’s B minor Mass is bound to be a tad fruitless. There are, however, several contemporaneous masses that are worth exploring and which made a significant impact back in their day. Even Bach’s own masses BWV 233-236 of 1738-9 (Collegium Vocale, Ghent/herreweghe Erato 6284812) don’t attain to the later B minor’s lofty heights, but by their very nature of being Missae breves (short masses) are less ambitious in any case. BWV 235’s Gloria does give a glimpse of B minor magnificence, and don’t be put off by the fact that Bach pilfered most of the music for them from his early cantatas – they’re exceedingly beautiful.
Bach’s direct predecessor at Leipzig’s Thomaskirche was Johann Kuhnau, who dabbled as a novelist, translator, lawyer – and composer.
The Missa brevis is slightly so-so, but the Magnificat, written during the 1710s, has wonderful moments and is the best of his sacred choral work. It serves as a fine B minor Mass amusebouche (Camerata Lipsiensis/gregor Meyer CPO 5550212). The fourth movement Von Himmel hoch places a cantus
Czech composer Zelenka could lay claim to being the most ‘Bach-like’
firmus melody under scampering strings, while the Fecit potentiam pits fantastic scoring for trumpet against strings and semi-chorus.
Czech 18th-century composer
Jan Dismas Zelenka could lay claim to being the most ‘Bach-like’ of the German master’s contemporaries.
The Missa votiva, ZWV 18 is full of imagination, the syncopated opening to the Gloria and the gently hugging Agnus Dei among its highlights (Collegium 1704/Václav Luks Alpha ALPHA355).
Staying in eastern Europe, Franti ek
Xaver Brixi’s Missa di Gloria (Concerto Vocale München, Monteverdi-orchester München/wolfgang Kelber Profil PH06029) is a far more straightforward work than his compatriot’s. As Brixi lived in the mid- to late-18th century, the mass straddles Baroque and Classical, its Qui tollis a beautiful mix of Bachian sighing and Haydn-esque grace.
Finally, something a bit different: the Missa Scala Aretina by Catalan composer and Bach contemporary Francisco Valls. Valls’s mass is glorious and uplifting – the Et resurrexit, richly scored with spirited choral interplay, is a real tonic (Le Concert de Nations/jordi Savall Alia Vox AVSA9924)