C. P. E. Bach: Magnificat / Naf, L'Arpa Festante

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This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


C. P. E. BACH Magnificat. Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes Fritz Näf, cond; Monika Mauch (sop); Matthias Rexroth (ct); Hans Jörg Mammel (ten); Gotthold Schwarz (bs); Basler Madrigalisten; L’arpa festante CARUS 83.412 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 62:37 Text and Translation)

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach was the Thomaskantor’s second son. He spent 27 years at the Prussian royal court and 20 years in Hamburg, surpassing his father’s reputation for some time after his death. This Magnificat was an early choral work of 1749, performed even in Leipzig. Both works are billed as world premiere recordings, or, in the case of the Magnificat, “the first recording of the original version.” But the latter differs from the work I have loved since Felix Prohaska’s recording was reissued on a single LP (it was originally three sides for a 49-minute performance) only in omitting trumpets and timpani, for the only other difference is the original “Et misericordia,” which most previous recordings have used. Seymour Solomon himself wrote the liner notes for Prohaska, asserting that the printed score had been compared with the original manuscript, and the trumpets and drums (“inexplicably omitted from later editions,” he says) were restored for the recording. He may have meant the manuscript in Hamburg, described by colleague William Youngren (15:2). Only Helmut Rilling has recorded the later, shorter “Et misericordia”; every other recording known to me has the original, longer setting of this verse.

The work became a favorite of mine, and I bought the next four LPs as soon as I could find them, but they all followed period-performance style, such as it was in those days, and I missed the grandeur that I had come to love. Emanuel’s work, as Solomon described it, was a combination of Italianate vocal style, Haydnesque orchestration, and his father’s Baroque choral writing. Prohaska’s large forces with modern orchestra, broad tempos (the longest recording known to me), and marvelous soloists brought out the majesty of the work better than later versions. I can still hear it with pleasure. Geraint Jones’s version was made next, but somehow remained on the shelf while several other recordings that he made in 1957 and 1958 for His Master’s Voice were issued; after Jones’s auto accident in 1960 limited his activities, it was apparently forgotten until Malcolm Walker discovered the tape and obtained its release in 1965 (I only found a copy many years later, a stereo LP pressed with an Odeon label for export). It was also Helen Watts’s first version, preceding her work for Ledger and Rilling.

This glorious work begins with a festive chorus on the first verse, a soprano solo on “Quia respexit,” and a brilliant tenor solo on “Quia fecit mihi.” After the choral “Et misericordia” comes a heroic bass solo on “Fecit potentiam,” then two rousing duets for contralto and tenor followed by a meltingly lovely contralto solo on “Suscepit Israel.” “Gloria Patri” is set to the music of the opening movement, followed by a gigantic double fugue on “Sicut erat,” an extended movement of great power. I hear the longer “Et misericordia” as a central peak between the opening and closing choral movements, while colleague Youngren likes the shorter setting because it makes the series of solo arias more prominent. The present performance is impressive, even if I miss the trumpets and timpani that punctuate the opening and closing choruses and the bass aria. Enhanced by modern sound, the soloists embellish their melodies stylishly. Three of the singers remind me favorably of Prohaska’s soloists, but Matthias Rexroth, the first countertenor I have heard in this work, has a heavier voice than Prohaska’s contralto, Hilde Rössl-Majdan, though he melds in well with the others in this team. So even though I think the composer knew what he was doing when he added the trumpets and timpani, I can recommend this as a gorgeous performance and recording of a masterpiece. Here are the versions so far issued:

Felix Prohaska, 1952, Bach Guild 516-17; 552
Geraint Jones, rec. May 1957 and May 1958, H.M.V. CLP 1828; CSD 1612; SME 91477
Adolf Detel, rec. November 1965, Archiv 73267; SAPM 198367
Kurt Thomas, rec. 1966, Victrola VICS 1368; Harmonia Mundi 30821; 1C 065-99624; CD: BMG-DHM. 05472-77411
Philip Ledger, rec. March 1976, Argo ZRG 853; CD: 421148 (15:2).
Helmut Rilling, rec. September 1976 and January–April 1977, Hänssler 91511; CD: 98970 (15:2). Revised “Et misericordia.”
Hartmut Haenchen, rec. December 1988, CD: Berlin BC 1011-2 (18:1). Not heard.
J. Reilly Lewis, rec. 1998, CD: Newport 60155. Not heard.
Michael Schneider, rec. December 2000, CD: Capriccio 67003 (26:3). Not heard.
Fritz Näf, rec. January 2008, CD: Carus 83412. Omits trumpets and timpani.

The other work on this disc was first heard in the early Hamburg years, 1773 or 1774, but it was written in 1772. In 1775 the first movement was revised and a new final chorale added, but the revisions are not heard here. The original purpose of the composition was the installation of a new pastor, only the last two original movements referring to Christmas at all. In the form performed annually after 1775, the added movements made it more of a Christmas cantata. The ensemble includes the three trumpets and timpani that could have been used in the other work, but the work strikes me more as well constructed than inspired. The performance does it full justice, but the Magnificat is worth the price of the disc.

FANFARE: J. F. Weber

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CV83412

  • UPC: 409350834127

  • Label: Carus

  • Composer: Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach

  • Conductor: Fritz Näf

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: L'Arpa Festante