J.C. BACH: Requiem; Miserere in B-flat – Lenneke Ruiten, soprano/ Ruth Sandhoff, alto/ Colin Balzer, tenor/ Thomas E. Bauer, bass/ RIAS Chamber Choir/ Academy for Old Music/ Hans-Christoph Rademann – Harmonia mundi 902098, 74:55 ****:
The youngest of the Bach boys, J.C. took the opportunity to take a trip to Italy at the impressionable age of 19; lured, so his biographer says, by several female Italian singers he knew. Whatever the reason, the sojourn effectively ended the close ties between Bach and his family, country, and eventually, faith, as he ended up converting to Catholicism. While there he made contact with perhaps the most persuasive influence he would encounter, that of the renowned Padre Martini. Martini was beloved, possessing a lyrical impulse that catapulted the young Bach completely out of the orbit of his father and into the world of bona fide classicism well before he actually met the famous man 15 years later. Well, almost—for in some of his early works he still made rather stringent use of such baroque staples as strict polyphony, but even here the unmistakable imprint of Martini melody would rear its head constantly.
And that is one of the things that makes this Requiem so interesting, aside from the fact that it is rather torso in form, having only the Introit, Kyrie, and Dies irae sequence, the first two movements more severe than the rather updated third, which uses arias, choruses, a trio and a quartet to provide the needed variety and emphasis according to the text. This same sort of modern sensibility is also found in the Miserere, a piece usually associated with a more severe and penitential style, but not here. Bach opens the work with one of the cheeriest melodies I have ever heard in a setting like this, obviously oblivious to the churchly needs of the day and more redolent of Mozart’s “Sweets of sin” (Stravinsky) than the stricter methods of Haydn and the earlier forebears. Whatever one wants to label the style, the results are quite affecting and beautiful in a work that deserves a large following.
All the forces at work here have spent a lot of time with this music and it sounds it. The choral work is lovely, the soloists spot on, and the orchestra resonant and inspired. Coupled with fine sound, this issue is most desirable in another Harmonia mundi winner, complete with texts, translations, and excellent notes.
The unifying purpose of Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn…