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Epiphany Mass
Conducted by Paul McCreesh

Recording

C-1

J.S. Bach: Epiphany Mass

Cantatas BWV 65, BWV 180; Missa Brevis in F major BWV 233, Sanctus in D major BWV 238

Paul McCreesh

Gabrieli Consort & Players

Soprano: Ann Monoyios; Alto: Angus Davidson; Tenor: Charles Daniels; Bass: Peter Harvey

Archiv Produktion

Apr, May, Nov 1997

2-CD / TT: 160:59

Recorded at Parish Church, Brand-Erbisdorf (Saxony) & Cathedral, Freiburg (Saxony), Germany.
Buy this album at: Amazon.com

Epiphany Mass

Steven Langley Guy
wrote:
Oh so true! Nice to know that they still regard Bach and other 'Early Music' as sort of marginal, non-mainstream Classical music.

Matthew Westphal retorted:
They do not! If they did, for example, they would hardly have released a (speculative) reconstruction of an entire service at the Thomaskirche (McCreesh's magnificent Bach Epiphany Mass), let alone had a star like Anne-Sofie von Otter record a pack of early Baroque laments no one had ever heard of ("Lamenti" - possibly the best solo record she's ever made).

Ryan Michero wrote:
Well, here in the US, McCreesh's Epiphany Mass disc is only available on special import. For DGG, American consumers just aren't interested in such music. The only reason I know of such a disc is this list. And the American release of "Lamenti" lagged waaaaay behind the European release. I think the only reason it was released here at all was because of the rave reviews it was getting in nearly all of the major classical music publications.

Matthew Westphal wrote (October 18, 1999):
The US street date for the Epiphany Mass is October 19. Yes, that's a year late, but having not been able to get it here in time for last Christmas, the Universal Classics folks here (not surprisingly) saved it for release this Christmas shopping season. (We have to face it, my friends -- except for manic Bach fans like us, most Americans wouldn't touch that disc with its Christmas-ish theme at any other time, regardless of its artistic merit.)

Pretty much nothing on DG Archiv got a US release in 1998. The US office of then-Polygram had a really difficult time in 1997 and 1998 - they had a staff of five for all of their labels for the entire US. That's five people doing everything - marketing, publicity, finance, the works. And they were operating on less-than-complete information from Hamburg - for example, when they were notified of Hndel's Ariodante and had to decide whether or not to import it, they weren't even told the cast or the age of the recording, let alone that it starred Anne Sofie von Otter. Also, for about a year after the purchase by Seagram's, they were in a sort of limbo -- luckily, they've actually been allowed to add staff in NYC and are now doing rather better. For example, the Schaefer/Goebel disc of Bach Wedding Cantatas was released here October 12. (I have it, but haven't had a chance to listen to it yet.)


McCreesh's Bach Epiphany Mass

Matthew Westphal
wrote (October 18, 1999):
The US street date is October 19. It should be listed by now at most of the CD retail Web sites. It is definitely at Amazon.com (with a review by yours truly)
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000JPC8/

Ben Ross wrote (October 18, 1999):
Thanks very much. I have been looking for something like this for a long time and will order it from Amazon.com. Enjoyed your review. Keep up the good work

Matthew Westphal wrote (October 19, 1999):
Thanks! If the "something like this" includes, by chance, one-voice-per-part Bach, the "Lutheran Masses vol. 1" on Chandos is marvellous:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000J8QP/

(It's not a liturgical reconstruction, though - McCreesh is the only one to have tried that with Bach - on recordings, at least.)


Bachs Epiphany Mass

Donald Satz wrote (November 1, 1999):
It was many months ago that a new Bach recording directed by Paul McCreesh was released in Europe on Archiv. Titled "Epiphany Mass", it represented McCreesh's attempt to present the Mass as it might have been circa 1740 in Leipzig. Unfortunately, this was one of those recordings that waits for months to be distributed in the U.S. But, it's finally here and well worth the wait.

McCreesh presents us with a series of organ pieces, hymns, cantatas, a Missa Brevis, preludes, two instrumental pieces by Pachebel, and even some church bells. I found it all very effective. Not being of a religious nature, I was looking for musical continuity and variety and think that McCreesh has done an excellent job blending them together.

The recorded sound is excellent, notes are great, and the presentation is first class in all respects. Orchestral support is expert, each vocal soloist effective, and the choirs are on top of their game.

This is a one-of-a-kind recording that either works or not, and it worked for me. I just stretched out, put myself in a church setting, and let the music unfold before me. It seemed natural and was fully satisfying. I have no idea if it would be liturgically satisfying.

Overall, although excellent, I don't consider the recording a must-buy. I can play the "church" role a few times in a short number of days as a novelty, but it gets old rather fast. I think the disc would be most enjoyed for the long run by a person of religious conviction who loves Bach's music and sees the musical and liturgical presentations as vivid and natural.


Epiphany Mass

Adam N. La Spata
wrote:
Speaking of whom, what does everyone think about the Epiphany Mass recording?

I think McCreesh and the Gabrieli C & P did a phenomenal job of conveying a sense of a worship service, as JSB would have experienced it. True, the ways certain things are viewed today (such as the archaic language used) has changed, but it is still a treat. With two cantatas, the Mass in F, Sanctus in D, church bells, liturgical chant, and congregational hymns, it is worth its high price.

Steven Langley Guy wrote (January 20, 2000):
Two words Adam: Buy it!

It is a great recording and I'm sure you'll like it if you don't already have it? You seem to be familiar with this recording? I feel that after HIP, the next step is to give some idea about the social context of music. The Epiphany Mass does this very well and it does things that no other Bach recording (to my knowledge) has ever done. If any of the members of the List still don't have this recording, they should order it immediately. McCreesh's and his Gabrieli Consort's Epiphany Mass is one of the crucial Bach recordings of recent years.

Adam N. La Spata wrote (January 21, 2000):
Oh yes, I do indeed have it and love it! As a horn player myself, I was particularly intrigued by the fact that McCreesh's horns are playing the parts as written - in C alto, up in the trumpet register. What a different flavour it gives the piece then Harnoncourt's '77 recording (according to the liner notes, his horn players then simply couldn't play the parts that high). Of course, no real damage was done, but it is gratifying to finally hear the parts played as the Kantor wrote them.

For those of you who debate one-on-a-part cantata performances vs. full choir renditions, you will be happy to hear that both approaches are taken. BWV 180 and the Sanctus in D are done with SATB soloists but BWV 65 and the Mass in F are given the full choral treatment.

Oh yes, take out a loan,max out your credit card, dwhatever it takes to get these CD's. I daresay that this recording parallels the Pinnock Brandenburgs in historical and musical accuracy. Enjoy!

Matthew Westphal wrote (January 21, 2000):
"Full choral treatment"?

McCreesh does the Mass and BWV 65 with 9 singers (3-2-2-2); he has the remaining five singers double the soloists at 'some' (not all) parts of the choruses, following the principles Bach seems to have used assigning soloists and "ripienists" in works such as BWV 21 "Ich hatte viel Bekmmernis". (Apparently the original performing parts for the Mass and BWV 65 haven't survived.)

Paul McCreesh is pretty much a "Rifkinist".

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 1, 2000):
(Epiphany Mass) Does anyone have any comments on this?

Billy Kitson wrote (February 1, 2000):
I think it is TERRIFIC && I Taped it off the FM stereo Radio FOR FREE!

Matthew Westphal wrote (February 2, 2000):
Oh goodness yes!

This album (along with the Hndel SOLOMON) was how I convinced my editor to name Paul McCreesh Amazon.com's Opera/Vocal Artist of the Year for 1999. (The Epiphany Mass was not released in the US until autumn of 1999.)

Unusually, he also gave me enough space to say just about everything I wanted to say in my review - which you will find, along with a very informative customer review by Galina Kolomietz and some sound clips, at:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000JPC8/002-8663837-6748245

Philip Peters wrote (February 2, 2000):
I will go and read your review. I find the Epiphany Mass one of the highlights of last year. McCreesh did something like this before, sort of 'reconstructing' a mass (that time in Gabrieli's Venice). It is most interesting even if one (like me) doesn't have any ties with the Christian faith. Well, off to read the review before I'm going to bark out all sorts of nonsense.

Matthew Westphal wrote (February 4, 2000):
Paul McCreesh pretty much always does that with sacred music -- puts the well-known works at the centre of a program in the context of a liturgy, so that, for example, a Mass setting is not presented as a five-movement suite along the lines of a string quartet, but with plainchant and other music in between the Mass movements as the composer expected.

When I asked Paul McCreesh to put into words why he feels this is important, he said, "If I were to suggest that we perform the St. Matthew Passion without the recitatives, you say I'd gone BARMY!"

The Gabrieli Consort and Players have recorded two Mass programs from Gabrieli's Venice:
A Venetian Coronation 1595 (Virgin Classics)
Venetian Easter Mass [with music by Lassus and the Gabrielis] (DG Archiv)
(Both of these are out of print in the US but available in Europe)

There is also "Music for San Rocco" (DG Archiv) - this is not in liturgical format - Paul McCreesh believes that the performance about which Thomas Coryat wrote was not a service, but rather a "spiritual concert" at the Scuola di San Rocco.

Then there's a spectacular program of music from Monteverdi's Venice:
Venetian Vespers [ca. 1640] (DG Archiv)

He has done two CD's of late Renaissance/early Baroque German music:
Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning
Schtz: Christmas Vespers
(Both DG Archiv)

Also, three CD's of Spanish liturgical music:
Victoria: Requiem
Morales: Requiem
Morales: Missa mille regretz ("Mass for the Feast of St. Isidore of Seville")

I must be forgetting something...

Colin T. Hart wrote (February 4, 2000):
Matthew, Indeed you are forgetting something... There's the Biber Missa Salisburgensis, with the assistance of Musica Antiqua Kln (I believe).

The Venetian Vespers is now available in a 2-for-the-price-of-1 packaging.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 8, 2000):
Just picked up the McCreesh Epiphany Mass recording today. Listened to part of it and it is indeed an amazing recording. I think I have found a new ensemble whose works I need to explore.

I have also been browsing through Matthew's reviews of the other Gabrieli Consort recordings, and I must say that I am very tempted.

BTW, it figures I would move now (I am moving to the Alps in a week). I should have waited until after the Bach year was over. McCreesh is doing the SPM in an abbey not far from here, at Easter...

Steven Langley Guy wrote (February 8, 2000):
You may like the Gabrieli Consort's Hndel "Solomon" & "Messiah", Biber "Missa Salisburgensis", Gabrieli "Music for San Rocco" & "Easter Mass". I cannot recommend their Praetorius recording, its a bit of a throwback to the crumhorn/rackett/recorder dominated 1970's. No doubt their future Bach recordings will be something to look out for.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (February 8, 2000):
I will keep my eyes out for some of them; unfortunately, they all seem to be full-price CD's. Their SMP will be recorded in 2002, so we will need to be patient.


When Harry met Sally, err, I mean, McCreesh

Benjamin Mullins
wrote (April 14, 2000): 5:25
< Harry Steinman wrote: Point well taken, Matthew. I just ordered the recording of the Markus Passion by K. and when it arrives I'll be better able to evaluate the piece. Put it this way, I enjoyed the performance; I may think differently when I study the recording. In the meantime, I just got the McCreesh Epiphany Mass and I'm listening to it as we 'speak'... I'm totally stoked-it's great! >
I'll be interested to hear your reactions on the Epiphany Mass. I have already made up my mind to buy it (along with the Wispelwey disc) and so many good things have been said about it, but I still like to hear as many opinions as I can.

P.S. Sorry for the subject, I couldn't help myself!

Armagan Ekici wrote (April 14, 2000): 18:52
(To Benjamin Mullins) I know that this is a highly unusual point of view on this CD, looking at the widespread celebration of it, but I have one or two words of warnings on this one:

It is great as a document that puts you into the church and lets you imagine how the service was during Bach's time. So when measured against what the CD is aiming to do, it is indeed a tremendous success (also probably unique in giving you the related hymn, chorale prelude and cantata in sequence).

However, my primary interest in Bach's music is not the religion / ritual but the music. If you share this "hedonistic" perspective, when the educational/curiosity value of this recording wears off, you end up with a recording that has extended amounts of material of little or no musical interest and you will end up skipping these. Of the 2 hours and 40 minutes of this recording, 1 hour is hymns and sermons, so here is the first word of warning -- Beware that you are buying a lot of non-music.

My second word of warning is the recording. The intention of the recording is to place you somewhere in the middle of the church and it is done very successfully; but that means that there is a ridiculous amount of reverb and "ambience" (read background hiss) in this recording. The quiet organ passages are overwhelmed by the background hiss (well, by DG 4D recording standards) and the loud organ passages have a tendency to mesh into an indistinguishable noise. The reverb also does not help the vocal passages.

So, to summarise, as an educational/pseudo--documentary this is a CD I believe everybody who is interested in Bach must hear at least once. But I doubt that it will bear repeated listening if you are not particularly impressed by religious ceremony.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (April 14, 2000): 20:40
(To Armagan Ekici) Interesting comments, Armagan. I find I like listening to the hymns on the CD, especially, "Pr natus in Bethlehem" but I agree that some of the readings, presented in chanting form, are movements that I regard kind of like recitatives: I'm glad that they are (mostly) brief. I will say that for my point of view, I get well enough out of the recording, the 2 cantatas, the Mass, the preludes, etc., that I will listen to this often.

So, I hear what you're saying but I wonder, what did you think of the Bach works?

DonaSatz wrote (April 14, 2000): 22:37
< ArmEkici wrote, concerning McCreesh's Epiphany Mass: So, to summarise, as an educational/pseudo--documentary this is a CD I believe everybody who is interested in Bach must hear at least once. But I doubt that it will bear repeated listening if you are not particularly impressed with religious ceremony. >
I tend to agree with Armagan in that a lack of appreciation of the "event" leaves the listener with some filler material on the disc and whatever opinion he/she has of how well McCreesh performs a Bach work. And he is a fine interpreter of Bach; I can't say at this point if he's one of the best, but he is certainly worthy. So, I end up with a 2-disc set of much great music well performed. I'm satisfied, but the event leaves me cold.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 15, 2000): 1:55
Good points by Armagan and Don.

I don't mind the prayers and choral responses (I actually find them a bit charming, at least as the Gabrielis perform them), but I'm certainly glad they aren't long. The hymns are certainly a bit more problematic. I was surprised by this, because I found the hymn-singing on McCreesh's Praetorius disc so exciting. (Granted, it certainly helped that stanzas of hymn-singing alternated with Praetorius' concerted versions of the same hymns.) I particular enjoy and admire Timothy Roberts' organ improvisations between each line, but one of those hymns lasts for ten minutes! My solution: after two stanzas, hit the skip button and go to the next track.

Armagan Ekici wrote (April 15, 2000): 22:09
(To Harry J. Steinman) Following Harry's comments I listened JUST to the cantatas and the mass again. Yes these performances are very enjoyable, especially the feelings of forward movement and joy are very well expressed and the soloists are first rate. As I said before the reverbant acoustics do not help the clarity in the vocal lines (nor the horns), but the playing is indeed very enjoyable. Comparison with Herreweghe's (acoustically perfect, and also very good on its own) Missa BWV 233 on Virgin is interesting. There is simply more "spirit" in McCreesh despite the (to my taste) inferior acoustics in McCreesh.

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 15, 2000): 4:12
< Jeff Leone wrote: Interesting enough, McCreesh is coming to Washington DC sometime in early May to revisit Guerrero and his Requiem. >
It's Morales, actually. It should be very good - that recording is one of my favourite McCreesh CDs (and that's saying a lot).

< Also, does anyone know if Goebel and MAK ever plan on touring the US? >
They toured the US (or appeared in NYC, at least) with Anne Sofie von Otter, doing the "Lamenti" program.


Reconstructing an event: First Impressions of McCreesh's Epiphany Mass

Harry Steinman
wrote (April 14, 2000): 20:35
< Ben Mullins wrote: I'll be interested to hear your reactions on the Epiphany Mass. I have already made up my mind to buy it (along with the Wispelwey disc) and so many good things have been said about it, but I still like to hear as many opinions as I can. >
I'd be happy to share my first impressions...I just started listening to this last night, so I can't go into a lot of detail. And I can describe my reactions, or quote the detailed and comprehensive booklet that accompanies the two discs, but I'm not much of a scholar, so I can't really evaluate the 'reconstruction' I use the word, 'reconstruction' with quotes because the Bach works that are part of the recording are complete and not reconstructions. What is a reconstruction is the Epiphany Mass itself. The recording is designed to present the mass, "it might have been celebrated in St. Thomas, Leipzig, c. 1740" As such, the recording begins with church bells calling the congregates, and includes the various hymns, organ works, cantatas-even a sermon-that would have been part of the service My impression of the recording (Archiv 457 631-2) is VERY favourable. You may recall that this recording was cited several times late last year during the "Hall of Fame" thread. Matthew Westphal, Arthur Jerijan, Ryan Michero and Carl Burmeister all tagged this as the "Recording of the Year" (or century) and it's been on my wish list since. Anyway, first impressions. I loved the church bells calling in the congregates (what a great idea!) and I wonder if there are any bell-ringers out there who also have this CD that can explain what it is I'm hearing! The service continues with Prelude (BWV 603) and Hymn, "Pr natus in Bethlehem". The prelude is deep and rich and I experience a deep and satisfying pleasure when I hear the loooooowww notes so distinctly! I loved the hymn, sung in Latin. You'll hear the chorus sing a simple melody, magnificently. As they pause between stanzas, you'll hear the echo of their voices in the church in which (I presume) the recording was made. You'll also hear the accompaniment, in the organ and harpsichord become more complex and insistent as the hymn progresses. You'll hear the first of two fantasies by Pachelbel-I believe that I read that McCreesh was unable to find certain organ pieces by Bach that the records show would have been played, so he uses Pachelbel. (It worked for me!) Then there is what is for me the highlight of the recording (but then, I haven't studied the 2nd disc yet!). This is the Missa brevis in F major (BWV 233). A couple of observations...the Kyrie Eleison starts so sweetly, not strong sounding but by the end of the 5'03" chorus, it has built to a powerful and towering and many-voiced masterpiece. I was overcome and thus, unprepared for the Gloria which swept me off my feet! A glorious Gloria! The ensemble may be reduced in size, but the size of the sound is not reduced one whit. A testimony to the recording? To the artists? The director? I leave that question to those with the technical talents! What I can say is this: I hear a wonderful multi-voiced chorus with a group of violinists (Led by Rachael Podger!) off to a race...when the horns, so subtle in the opening bars, assert themselves, as do the reeds. What you'll hear is concerto-style Bach at its grand and glorious best! As I write these words, I'm listening to the swelling horns, strings, reeds and voices compete and combine as they exalt, "...Gloria magnum tuam." I don't think I shall review this F major Mass movement-by-movement; I'll just say that it's great and that the bass, soprano, and alto arias are as enjoyable as the movements for chorus. The first CD continues with a Collect for chorus, a chanted Epistle, a "Gradual hymn" (whatever that is!), Cantata BWV 65 ("Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen"), more hymns, organ Preludes (BWV 611, 719 and a Pachelbel Toccata in B flat major), salutation, and an actual sermon. The second CD includes several Preludes (BWV 657, 654, 734, 619 and "Vom Himmel hoch" BWV 738a), the cantata, "Schmcke dich, o liebe Seele"; the Sanctus n D major, BWV 238; a benediction and response, "Gott sei uns gnadig", BWV 323 and a Postlude: Fantasia in G major, BWV 572. I'm glad I have this recording. The accompanying booklet, which is full of interesting detail and explanation of how the reconstruction of an 18th century mass was made, is detailed, lucid and useful. Among the topics are discussions of "Liturgy and Music in Leipzig", "Hymnody and Hymnals" "The role of the organ" (as well as a discussion of the Silberman organs used in the recording) "The Sermon" "The Concerted Music" "Performance Practice" (with and interesting discussion of how and why the reduced forces are deployed, and how the singers were arranged for the recording). Sound quality is A+. About $30 from H&B Direct and worth it.

The cantata, "Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen" (BWV 65) surrounded by other Preludes (BWV 611 and 719), various pieces such as a 'Collect', an epistle, hymns and another Pachelbel Toccata, gospel readings etc. These are either sung or chanted, depending on the service. The first CD ends with a spoken sermon (!).

The second CD includes more Preludes (657, 567, 654, 734, 617, 572 and 738 - "Von Himmel hoch", a favourite; more hymns, the Sanctus in D major, BWV 23, etc.

The music tends to be OPPV, One Part Per Voice, which allows a full and free expression by the singers, but not exclusively so! In the wonderful and extensive notes in the accompanying booklet, McCreesh writes, "This recording has tried to re-create the sound world of Bach's ensemble, especially in the use of chamber-size forces...[big snip]...the singers were placed around the organ in a semi-circle, slightly behind the instruments but to the front of the gallery for arias and recitatives...whilst certain Bach cantatas work wonderfully as one-to-a-part chamber music, ripieno performance

PS As I sit here and write these words, the opening chorus of the cantata, "Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen", BWV 65 is playing. Darn! This stuff is great...Don't even get me started again...

Ryan Michero wrote (April 14, 2000): 23:39
(To Harry J. Steinman) Thanks for the "first impressions" review, Harry. It's nice to hear someone so enthusiastic about a Bach recording, relaying their pleasure after really listening to a piece for the first time.

< Harry J. Steinman wrote: You may recall that this recording was cited several times late last year during the "Hall of Fame" thread. Matthew Westphal, Arthur Jerijan, Ryan Michero and Carl Burmeister all tagged this as the "Recording of the Year" (or century) and it's been on my wish list since. >
For the record, I actually did not name this as the recording of the year. For me that would be Suzuki's St. John Passion recording. I do think McCreesh's set is great, though I can understand some of Armagan Ekici's concerns.

I look at McCreesh's reconstructions as historically informed recitals: Music (and, for him, some non-music) selected to form a programme, so as to entertain and educate an audience. For entertaining us and for giving us a better sense of historical context, McCreesh is a great Bach performer.

But because he is so unique, it's hard to get a sense of his actual achievement as a performer. I just don't know if some of his recordings, including his Epiphany Mass, are completely MUSICALLY satisfying. For instance, I compared his version of the cantata "Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen" (BWV 65) on the Epiphany Mass CD to that of Koopman on one of his complete cantata volumes. I was surprised I liked Koopman's performance more. Part of this was due to the acoustic, as McCreesh's forces are set within a resonant church acoustic and Koopman's choir and orchestra are so much clearer. Also, Koopman seemed to make more of Bach's rhythms, making the lovely opening chorus especially exciting and dance-like--something I didn't hear in McCreesh's version. I remember enjoying the cantata very much when I was listening to the Epiphany Mass set, but was it maybe because I was listening to so much chant and simplified chorale settings that Bach's dense, colourful music sounded so much better in comparison?

Matthew mentioned that when he questioned McCreesh about including chant interpolations within works, McCreesh came back with something like people would say he is "batty" if he wanted to perform the St. Matthew without the recitatives. Well, recitatives and chant interpolations are not the same things! Bach obviously wrote all of his own recitatives, and they are often interesting, colourful, and dramatic on their own and are an integral part of the structure of the work. Bach had nothing to do with centuries old chant interpolations--they are after all, "interpolations" inserted into a finished work after the fact. And what little they had to do with his music can be explained in liner notes. Chant interpolations are kind of like commercials during your favourite television program.

I do really think the Epiphany Mass set is important. It's great that McCreesh does this, but do we really want this extraneous stuff filling up the space on all of our discs of Bach's choral music now? Maybe if McCreesh just focused on Bach's music alone his performances would be even better? A performer first, a scholar second?

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 15, 2000): 2:35
< Ryan Michero wrote: I look at McCreesh's reconstructions as historically informed recitals: Music (and, for him, some non-music) selected to form a programme, so as to entertain and educate an audience. For entertaining us and for giving us a better sense of historical context, McCreesh is a great Bach performer. But because he is so unique, it's hard to get a sense of his actual achievement as a performer. I just don't know if some of his recordings, including his Epiphany Mass, are completely MUSICALLY satisfying. For instance, I compared his version of the cantata "Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen" on the Epiphany Mass CD to that of Koopman on one of his complete cantata volumes. I was surprised I liked Koopman's performance more. >
Compare McCreesh's F Major Missa with others -- say, Herreweghe and/or the Purcell Quartet. Perhaps you just prefer Koopman's performance of "Sie werden".

< Matthew mentioned that when he questioned McCreesh about including chant interpolations within works, McCreesh came back with something like people would say he is "batty" if he wanted to perform the St. Matthew without the recitatives. Well, recitatives and chant interpolations are not the same things! Bach obviously wrote all of his own recitatives, and they are often interesting, colourful, and dramatic on their own and are an integral part of the structure of the work. Bach had nothing to do with centuries old chant interpolations--they are after all, "interpolations" inserted into a finished work after the fact. >
Actually, in the case of Bach, they are interpolations inserted between finished works -- interpolations more or less of the sort Bach expected (and indeed performed) between and around his sacred works. (Of course, that fact need not have any bearing on whether we like such interpolations now --unless we are performing in or attending a religious service in which Bach's music is being used.)

McCreesh and I were talking primarily about interpolations of Latin chant into Mass cycles, Vespers music and other Latin church music -- the sort of thing he has done so brilliantly with 16th and 17th century music by Morales, the Gabrielis, Monteverdi, Lassus, Palestrina and the like. A large part of McCreesh's point is that, particularly in the case of Mass cycles, such "centuries-old chant interpolations" are integral to the work. Josquin's and Palestrina's Masses, for example, were never intended by their composers to be heard one right after another (except for the Kyrie and Gloria, of course) after the manner of a string quartet. That is the sort of situation McCreesh considers analogous to the St. Matthew Passion.

(Those chant interpolations were not centuries-old in the case of French Baroque music, by the way -- composers as well-known as Campra actually composed and published plainchant as well as concerted music.)

Matthew Westphal wrote (April 15, 2000): 2:42
< Ryan Michero wrote: I do really think the Epiphany Mass set is important. It's great that McCreesh does this, but do we really want this extraneous stuff filling up the space on all of our discs of Bach's choral music now? Maybe if McCreesh just focused on Bach's music alone his performances would be even better? A performer first, a scholar second? >
McCreesh definitely considers himself a performer first, a scholar second.

I'm told that the Bach program, that he is currently rehearsing and will tour with next week, will include only the Bach works themselves.

Here's the schedule (sorry I don't have more information):

April

Bach: Easter Oratorio + Magnificat

12-15

Rehearsals in London

17

Barcelona

18

Rome

21-22

Fontevraud (NB St John Passion on 21)

23

London (Barbican)

24-28

Recording sessions for DG Archiv Bach: Easter Oratorio + Magnificat Brand Erbisdorf


The reconstructions, reconsidered

Harry J. Steinman
wrote (April 15, 2000): 22:59
In the last several days, I've waxed rhapsodically about the Koopman Markus Passion and the McCreesh Epiphany Mass. Regarding the Koopman Passion; since I don't hear the shortcomings in the reconstruction that the more studied memof the list do, I still have very good memories of the performance. Maybe someday I'll know enough about the music that I won't like it! ;-)

Ditto for the McCreesh. With the passing of time (two-and-a-half days!) I find myself listening less to most of the hymns and more exclusively to the Bach. I agree that the recording doesn't sound as crisp as, say, Herreweghe, and while I understand what McCreesh was trying to do, I'd have preferred a recording approach that is more clear. But I still very much enjoy the recording and find myself listening to the hymn, "Pr natus in Bethlehem" and to the Kyrie and Gloria of the F major Mass over and over and over-enough so that I don't get to the 2nd disc enough.

Well, I get excited by new music. I listened to the Mass (and considered my memory of the Passion) in light of the observations of others and I guess I still like 'em both a lot. Go figure.


BACH: Epiphany Mass - Gabrieli Consort & Players - Paul McCreesh

Ben Mullins
wrote (July 1, 2000):
When I first finished listening to this set I thought to myself, "What an odd little recording!" Of the 2 1/2 hours of music there is relatively little Bach. (At first this irritated me.) There are lots of chant, hymns, some very grand sounding spoken German, and a few organ preludes. The more I listened to it though, the more it made sense. So, here is my ever-so-humble thoughts of DG-ARCHIV 457 631-2...

< Armagan Ekici wrote:
I know that this is a highly unusual point of view on this CD, looking at the widespread celebration of it, but I have one or two words of warnings on this one:
[Snip]
However, my primary interest in Bach's music is not the religion / ritual but the music. If you share this "hedonistic" perspective, when the educational/curiosity value of this recording wears off, you end up with a recording that has extended amounts of material of little or no musical interest and you will end up skipping these. Of the 2 hours and 40 minutes of this recording, 1 hour is hymns and sermons, so here is the first word of warning -- Beware that you are buying a lot of non-music.
-----------------
See my thoughts below...
-----------------
My second word of warning is the recording. The intention of the recording is to place you somewhere in the middle of the church and it is done very successfully; but that means that there is a ridiculous amount of reverb and "ambience" (read background hiss) in this recording. The quiet organ passages are overwhelmed by the background hiss (well, by DG 4D recording standards) and the loud organ passages have a tendency to mesh into an indistinguishable noise. The reverb also does not help the vocal passages.
[Snip] >
It is true that a very big, squishy acoustic was used. I agree that the vocal lines do tend to run into each other now and then. And it is true that the organ sound isn't always as crisp as one might expect. However, is this necessarily a bad thing? This is sort of a "is the glass half full or half empty" issue. Looking at it from 'recording' standards, yes there is a bit too much reverb and "ambience", sometimes resulting in a 'wash' of sound. On the other hand, it could also be said that since the goal was to plop the listener in the middle of an 18th century church, the resulting acoustic is perfect for this recording. Does every recording have to be in a (according to modern tastes) perfect acoustic? Of course this is, in the end, purely a matter of taste.

< Ryan Michero wrote:
[Snip]
I do really think the Epiphany Mass set is important. It's great that McCreesh does this, but do we really want this extraneous stuff filling up the space on all of our discs of Bach's choral music now? Maybe if McCreesh just focused on Bach's music alone his performances would be even better? A performer first, a scholar second? >
As I looked over the posts concerning this set I noticed a very definite trend. Almost everyone made a comment concerning the extra-Bach material an the set, how they didn't like it, thought it was too long, or was glad it wasn't any longer than it was. Very similar to this review I read:

< NA from Gramophone Magazine wrote:
[Snip]
While I should not want to sit through all this every time I feel like listening to a Bach cantata Bach's music requires no such trappings I did find this conjecture illuminating and, up to a point, stimulating. But at some stage Archiv might be well advised to make the cantatas and Missa available separately. There are some fine performances there, and it is Bach rather than bells, chant, responses and sermons that most of us want to hear. The recorded sound, from Freiburg Cathedral and Brand-Erbisdorf in Saxony, is excellent. Bravo! >
Whether we like to think of it this way or not, Bach wrote his church cantatas for, and intended them to be performed in a very specific context. This context is the chant, hymns, sermons, etc. Granted though, I don't think that each and every cantata CD should be as thorough. (I do find it interesting that McCreesh's other 'reconstructions were not faulted this way. I read no reviews that questioned the chant in his 'Venetian Vespers'. Could it be Bach is put on a kind of *musical* pedestal, being "protected" from secular, non-musical history?)

What NA and many on this list forget is that Mr. McCreesh has NEVER put out any Bach CD's. (Though I earnestly look forward to his reading of the Magnificat and Easter Oratorio!) When we all bought DG-ARCHIV 457 631-2 we were not purchasing Bach CD's, but *Epiphany Mass* CD's. There is a big difference! If the point were to produce recordings of BWV 233, BWV 65, and BWV 180, I too would not like all the "trappings", "bells, chant, responses and sermons that most of us [don't] want to hear." However, that was not the point. The point was to attempt to recreate an event. Just because BACH is in big letters on the cover does not mean that his music is necessarily the most important part of the recording.

Above all Bach was a religious man. All his works were 'to the glory of God'. His cantatas were themselves musical sermons. I wonder what he would think if he knew 250 years after his death that his dear cantatas would be marketed as "pieces of music". They were so much more to him and his congregation. The strangeness we feel hearing these works amongst these "trappings" is directly proportionate to the feeling Bach would likely have hearing this music presented "naked" and out of context.

BACH: Epiphany Mass - Gabrieli Consort & Players - Paul McCreesh

CD 1
1. Church Bells - What a great idea! This is something I think every cantata CD could use. It is a great way to "get in the mood".

2. Prelude BWV 603 - The organ playing on this set is wonderful! The organs used certainly help in this respect

3. Introit hymn - The chorales never really made sense to me, until now. The sound of the massed forces of the choir and congregation are awe-inspiring. This is how the chorales are meant to be performed.

5-10. Missa brevis in F major BWV 233 - Great playing. It is here however that the individual vocal lines do tend to run together a bit now and then. Still, a wonderful performance.

12,13. Listen to these two tracks together. The effect of the earth shattering pedal note coming down like a thunder bolt after the soft, delicate reading of Isaiah 60:1-6 is unforgettable!

17-23. Cantata BWV 65 - This and the other cantata performance (disc 2 8-14) are delightful. The horns here and in the Missa are outstanding. Hearing them in all their raw, natural glory gave me goose bumps.

CD 2
The contents of this are very similar to the first. Cantata BWV 180 is, as I said, done beautifully. As regards the final hymn (track 21) and its length. Well, I think it is a fitting end to a splendid "Mass". The following postlude too is brilliantly played by James O'Donnell

In the end I think I will enjoy this set the more I listen to it. The more one understands Bach, the depth of his faith, athe times in which he lived, then one can appreciate him and his music all the more. I look fto Mr. McCreesh's further endeavours into the music of the greatest composer in recorded history.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (July 1, 2000):
(To Ben Mullins) Glad you got the McCreesh recording...I really enjoy the short mass and the cantatas; I'm so-so on the organ stuff and I don't enjoy a lot of the chanting. But I pull out the recording frequently, especially for the F Major Mass. And I'm glad I can program out some of the other stuff.

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 3, 2000):

< Ben Mullins wrote: Of the 2 1/2 hours of music there is relatively little Bach. >
Now, now... Two cantatas, a Missa, a Sanctus and some organ works --"relatively little Bach"?

< On the other hand, it could also be said that since the goal was to plop the listener in the middle of an 18th century church, the resulting acoustic is perfect for this recording. Does every recording have to be in a "perfect" acoustic? Of course this is, in the end, purely a matter of taste. >
I heartily agree with Ben. And the recorded sound was deliberate -- the idea was to give an idea of the sound you'd hear within a church.

< As I looked over the posts concerning this set I noticed a very definite trend. Almost everyone made a comment concerning the extra-Bach material an the set, how they didn't like it, thought it was too long, or was glad it wasn't any longer than it was. >
I liked it all a great deal. My only complaint (strictly as a consumer of music, not on principle) is that the hymns went on too long (and weren't as exciting as those on the Praetorius CD). I'd have been happier with only 2-3 stanzas per hymn.

< This context is the chant, hymns, sermons, etc. Granted though, I don't think that each and every cantata CD should be as thorough. (I do find it interesting that McCreesh's other 'reconstructions were not faulted this way. I read no reviews that questioned the chant in his 'Venetian Vespers'. >
Oh yes, other McCreesh reconstructions have been faulted by some. (There are many people who do prefer to listen to the movements of a Renaissance mass cycle the way they would to the movements of a string quartet -- consecutively.)

Venetian Coronation and Venetian Vespers weren't much faulted for that because there was very little chant in those reconstructions (especially the Vespers).

< Could it be Bach is put on a kind of *musical* pedestal, being "protected" from secular, non-musical history?) What NA and many on this list forget is that Mr. McCreesh has NEVER put out any Bach CD's. (Though I earnestly look forward to his reading of the Magnificat and Easter Oratorio!) >
Those will not be in the context of a service -- just the Bach works. They will be one-singer-per-part.

< The strangeness we feel hearing these works amongst these "trappings" is directly proportionate to the feeling Bach would likely have hearing this music presented "naked" and out of context. >
That last observation is, of course, speculation. However, I agree with it -- and with most of Ben's interesting comments.

Ryan Michero wrote (July 4, 2000):
(To Ben Mullins) Ben--thanks for your thoughts on the Epiphany Mass CD.

< The strangeness we feel hearing these works amongst these "trappings" is directly proportionate to the feeling Bach would likely have hearing this music presented "naked" and out of context. >
You're getting into some heavy speculation here, saying what Bach would've wanted and would have thought strange. Perhaps Bach did think of his cantatas as "pieces of music" that should survive beyond their mundane weekly context. Look at the B-minor Mass, which Bach worked on quite a bit and apparently never intended to perform--it was a piece of music that should would stand on its own and not in the context of any service. And look at many of his secular cantatas--works that were created to be part of a Collegium Musicum program much like CD compilations are today.

< Just because BACH is in big letters on the cover does not mean that his music is necessarily the most important part of the recording. >
If Bach were not the most important part of this recording, it would not have been made. Perhaps a more representative and easier-to-recreate Epiphany Mass took place during Kuhnau's tenure at the Thomaskirche. But I doubt McCreesh would have been as interested in doing a recording of that, and certainly DG executives would be a lot more wary of releasing a two-disc set titled "Epiphany Mass -- KUHNAU"!

I don't mean to sound like I'm "dissing" this recording--I think it's invaluable for showing us what the context of services at Leipzig might have been like. But on the other hand I worry about the limited space on CD's being taken up by things like bells, chant, long congregational hymns, and sermons spoken in German...

Ryan Michero wrote (July 4, 2000):
<< Ben Mullins wrote: (Though I earnestly look forward to his reading of the Magnificat and Easter Oratorio!) >>
< Matthew Westphal wrote: Those will not be in the context of a service -- just the Bach works. They will be one-singer-per-part. >
Why did McCreesh pick two works out of ALL of the Bach vocal pieces that have already been recorded OVPP (by Parrott)? There are many neglected cantatas crying out for an OVPP performance.

It's funny--some works have been recorded multiple times with OVPP (the B-minor Mass (BWV 232), BWV 4, BWV 106, the Magnificat (BWV 243), the some motets, etc.) and some very important works remain unrecorded in that format (BWV 21, the St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244), the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), countless other cantatas...). Why is that?

I will be VERY happy when McCreesh's OVPP St. Matthew comes out though.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (July 4, 2000):
< Lot's of snipping and Ryan commented: I worry about the limited space on CD's being taken up by things like bells, chant, long congregational hymns, and sermons spoken in German... >
My own reaction is that I enjoyed about all of that the first time or two I listened the CD...now I edit much of it out with the programming button. From that point of view I was glad to hear it. Even though I skip over a lot of stuff, I still figure I got my money's worth. I might almost buy the entire recording just for the "Gloria" in the F Major mass (BWV 233). That sends me!

What I DO keep is the church bells, some of the Pachelbel organ stuff and especially, the "Pr natus in Bethlehem" which I really like.

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 4, 2000):
(To Harry Steinman) I'm with Harry on this!

Matthew Westphal wrote (July 4, 2000):
< Ryan Michero wrote: Why did McCreesh pick two works out of ALL of the Bach vocal pieces that have already been recorded OVPP (by Parrott)? There are many neglected cantatas crying out for an OVPP performance. >
I'm sure some of it was DG's choice. But that's not the first time McCreesh has done that. (e.g., Music for San Rocco, Purcell Hail Bright Cecilia) For a Tudor English program, he did Sheppard's Cantate Mass (which should be released this fall) -- one of only three Mass settings in the entire Tudor repertory that has already been done in liturgical context. (And when I talked to him about doing another such program, the Mass he suggested is one of the two others -- Taverner's Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas.) I doubt he'd admit to this, but I think McCreesh has a competitive streak.

< It's funny--some works have been recorded multiple times with OVPP (the B-minor Mass, BWV 4, BWV 106, the Magnificat, the some motets, etc.) and some very important works remain unrecorded in that format (BWV 21, the St. Matthew Passion, the Christmas Oratorio, countless other cantatas...). Why is that? >
With the B-Minor Mass, it's probably because that's the work with which Rifkin introduced the OVPP thesis. (I'm told that this was because he was, at the same time and same musicology conference, introducing his new edition of the Mass.)

The collective conventiwisdom is less skittish about OVPP in early cantatas like BWV 4 and BWV 106. The Entwurff -- and the modern misreading of its call for three to four singers for each voice part as referring to Bach's own concerted music rather than the duties of the choir as a whole -- doesn't apply to the pre-Leipzig cantatas. Also, records evidently indicate that at Weimar and Mhlhausen more than one singer per part wasn't possible (there just weren't enough singers on the payroll).

Ben Mullins wrote (July 4, 2000):
< Ryan Michero wrote: You're getting into some heavy speculation here, saying what Bach would've wanted and would have thought strange. Perhaps Bach did think of his cantatas as "pieces of music" that should survive beyond their mundane weekly context. Look at the B-minor Mass, which Bach worked on quite a bit and apparently never intended to perform--it was a piece of music that should would stand on its own and not in the context of any service. And look at many of his secular cantatas--works that were created to be part of a Collegium Musicum program much like CD compilations are today. >
Well, perhaps I should have said not that Bach intended, but expected his cantatas to be performed in a certain context. The Mass in B minor was never performed nor did Bach expect it to be in his lifetime, as I'm sure you know. This is not the case for the cantatas or Missa. They were performed and Bach knew perfectly well under what conditions they would be. The secular cantatas were obviously not of a sacred nature and would have been seen as a secular work, not much unlike the Brandenburgs, Harpsichord Concerti, or 'cello suites. Anyway though, I think I see what you mean. And I agree that on some level Bach must have seen them as pieces of music, but it is so easy to take works like these out of context.

< If Bach were not the most important part of this recording, it would not have been made. Perhaps a more representative and easier-to-recreate Epiphany Mass took place during Kuhnau's tenure at the Thomaskirche. But I doubt McCreesh would have been as interested in doing a recording of that, and certainly DG executives would be a lot more wary of releasing a two-disc set titled "Epiphany Mass -- KUHNAU"! >
From a financial point of view you are absolutely right! But, artistically, would that be a valid statement? The big draw (and really the point) of this CD was Bach, but does that make the extra-Bach material less worthy somehow? Of course not everybody likes all that other stuff, and naturally I don't always listen to EVERYTHING else before I get to the Bach, but again, this is a recreation of a mass, not a concert performance. If it were meant to be just a CD of BWV 233, BWV 65, BWV 180 we would not be having this 'discussion' then would we?

< I don't mean to sound like I'm "dissing" this recording--I think it's invaluable for showing us what the context of services at Leipzig might have been like. But on the other hand I worry about the limited space on CD's being taken up by things like bells, chant, long congregational hymns, and sermons spoken in German... >
I certainly don't think there is any danger of that. I don't think I would like all those things on all my cantata CD's either. But then the Koopman or Suzuki sets don't try to recreate anything, so one wouldn't really expect bells or chant. I think this is certainly one of those times when there could easily be 'too much of a good thing'.

Johan van Veen wrote (July 6, 2000):
Let me add some to the things that have been said already. Although I am not totally convinced about the performances, I think that the whole idea of a reconstruction is brilliant. It has been done with other music, and in particular Paul McCreesh has been very active in this field. I think these reconstructions are very interesting in that they give us an idea of the context in which the music was originally performed. That will help us to understand the music itself. I was also very impressed for instance with Grard Lesne's recordings of Charpentier's Leons de Tnbres in their proper context. It creates a great atmosphere, which will help to understand the spirit of the music. That doesn't mean that (liturgical) music can only be performed in that way. That would be difficult for practical reasons. But I certainly believe that recordings could be more helpful in giving insight into the context in which the music was originally performed. For example, when a cantata for a specific Sunday is recorded, before it the hymn of that Sunday could be performed, with an organ prelude. I'm not sure whether it would be wise to put the lesson of that Sunday on the CD, but at least it should be printed in the booklet. What would Bach think if he knew that we perform his sacred cantatas in concerts? Well, I think he would have been surprised that we would perform his music in the first place. Composers of his time didn't compose for the eternity, but just for the next Sunday. I am pretty sure he never expected his B minor Mass to be performed after his death. Almost all music performed in Bach's time was contemporary music. But Ben is certainly right that it is very strange to perform Bach's sacred music out of context. But that is the price we have to pay to be able to hear his music. Let's not forget that notwithstanding all modern efforts to be as "authentic" as possible, our whole music scene with concerts, CD's etc is highly "un-authentic". That is a compromise we have to accept. One criticism is the hymn singing. Quite a number of people hate it. I suppose it depends on your own background. Since I am familiar with congregational hymn singing (I do it every Sunday in church) I have no problems with it. An important thing we shouldn't forget is how important hymns were for Bach. His whole oeuvre is full of hymns. A German musicologist has even discovered fragments of hymns in one of Bach's works for solo violin. For me the hymns in the Epiphany Mass are one of the most exciting aspects. I love every minute of it.


Epiphany mass

Chad Romney wrote (March 27, 2002):
I could not find any information on the website about this recording:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00000JPC8/qid=1017247967/sr=1-20/ref=sr_1_20/104-1873089-3411155

Does anyone have any information on it? Is it recommended? I have a chance to get it at a pretty low price. Thanks.

Aryeh Oron wrote (March 27, 2002):
[To Chad Romney] Look at the following page of the Bach Cantatas Website:
http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/McCreesh-Epiphany.htm
I believe that you can find there enough material to feed tour curiousity.

Charles Francis wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Chad Romney] The recording is worth having, if only to demonstrate the folly applying the modern HIP-tempo to Bach's sacred music. McCreesh attempts to reconstruct the Mass as it might have been performed in 1740, in Leipzig, which includes, somewhat anachronistically, Martin Luther's semon on the day of Epiphany. Although I find the up-beat tempos questionable in the context of such a sacred ritual, the performance itself is no where near as bad as, say, McCreesh's later Magnificat or Easter Oratorio. Of interest, the chorales and choruses are performed 'One Voice Per Part', though the quality doesn't compare with Rifkin.

Kirk McElhearn wrote (March 28, 2002):
[To Chad Romney] I would get it, if it is cheap. The performances are brilliant, but I don't like the structure. I rarely listen to it, because of the many different things in the set.

Harry J. Steinman wrote (March 29, 2002):
[To Chad Romney] There is a lot to praise in this recording. In particular, I enjoy the short mass included on the first disc and the cantata recordings. I enjoy a bit of the non-JSB stuff, and none of much of the 'filler' material-chants and sermons and whatnot. The recordisuffers, I believe, from placing the microphones in the middle of the church to simulate the experience of a churchgoer. The sound is a bit muffled asa result. And the inclusion of mass material that is not a part of the "Bach experience" makes one treasure the program button on one's CD player.

That being said, I do listen to the short mass and cantatas that are included and enjoy 'em.but I agree with Kirk: a cheap price is important 'cuz there's a lot of packing material in the recording.

Donald Satz wrote (March 29, 2002):
[To Harry J. Steinman] I remember first listening to this recording and thinking well of it. I believe that I did review it at some point, but I haven't listened to it since. That generally is my basic test of a recording - if it just sits around after review, it isn't one of my favored musical possessions. Also, 'theme' discs don't usually win my affection.

Overall, I'm not a big fan of McCreesh's Bach. I think he misses much of Bach's depth and poignancy. Also, his Magnificat disc was so speedy that tons of nuance went by without hardly a notice. His reputation has shot up greatly in recent years, but I don't hear what all the fuss is about. In this regard, I put McCreesh in the same compartment as Murray Perahia.

J. Leone wrote (March 29, 2002):
Well regarding McCreesh's popularity, I think it is due more to his performances of other composers' music, not Bach's music. So far he has only released 2 CDs of Bach music.

I think his Handel is the best around. I'm not one for Renaissance music and pre-Baroque, but his recordings are quite good in those areas.

I really hope he releases some more Handel soon. There was talk about him or Minkowski recording Juilio Caesare for DG.

Neil Halliday wrote (March 30, 2002):
< Donald Satz wrote: Don says (post #5642) "..his Magnificat disc was so speedy that tons of nuance went by without hardly a notice."
I think he probably has the popular-music-video disease, very wide spread these days; have you ever tried to watch one of these? The images change so rapidly you cannot savour a clever dance routine, or even a pretty face, for that matter!

I just heard the first movement of Vivaldi's Gloria on the radio; instead of the expected 5 minutes or so of glorious music, we only got about 2 and a half minutes - which is probably a good thing, because the music was most un-glorious!


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