Notes and Editorial Reviews
Cantata No. 147. Sinfonia in D,
Magnificat in D
Hansjörg Albrecht, cond; Andrea Lauren Brown, Lydia Teuscher (sop); Olivia Vermeulen (alt); Julian Prégardien (ten); Sebastian Noack (bar); Rebekka Hartmann (vn); Munich Bach Ch & O
OEHMS 1801 (58:57)
This disc celebrates the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Munich Bach Choir and the Munich Bach Orchestra by the legendary Karl Richter. “Legendary” is a term perhaps
too readily bandied about, but in Richter’s case, I think, it’s apt. Richter was the bridge between the monumental pre-World-War-II Bach interpretations and the fleet, light HIP (“historically informed practiced”) style in favor today. Before coming to Munich in 1951 Richter sang in Dresden’s Kreuzchor and served as organist at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church. In Munich he led the Heinrich Schütz Circle, renaming it the Munich Bach Choir in 1954 and launching a new era, both for Munich and for Bach. His many performances and recordings with the MBC and its companion orchestra made him one of the most influential Bach interpreters of 1950s, 60s, and 70s. His chorus was large by today’s standards, though a far cry from the 200-plus voices sometimes previously assembled for major Bach festivals. His tempos, too, were much more leisurely that those we have come to favor, but he purged the music of the bloat that had been all too common, and he imbued his interpretations with a new intensity. He was never tempted to replace his excellent orchestra with period-instrument specialists. It would be hard to over-estimate the influence of Richter’s Archiv recordings on the evolving scene. But he was swept away by the tsunami of the historically informed tide. He died of a heart attack in 1981, reportedly embittered by his marginalization.
Despite some collective self-doubt, the MBC survived its founder and found new life under the direction of Hanns-Martin Schneidt. Hansjörg Albrecht assumed leadership of the choir in 2005, and like Schneidt has sought to expand the choir’s repertory without diluting its main focus on the music of J. S. Bach.
The new recording finds the choir still in excellent shape—and still large. The roster lists 28 sopranos, 22 altos (all apparently female), just nine tenors, and 17 basses. Whether all sing in these performances is a matter for speculation. The orchestra is much more modest, with a 3-3-2-2-1 string cohort and the necessary winds and continuo. The performances are brisk—every movement in both works is shorter than its counterpart in Richter’s versions. Some skirt the edge of plausibility, but the choir always holds. The soloists are very good or better. It’s a fitting tribute to the founder.
The orchestral sinfonia (still played on modern instruments) that separates the two popular choral works was apparently intended for a cantata now otherwise lost. It’s good to have.
FANFARE: George Chien
Works on This Recording
Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Munich Bach Orchestra,
Munich Bach Choir
Written: circa 1728-1731; Leipzig, Germany
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