The Sacred Apocryphal Bach / Helbich, Alsfelder Vokalensemble [8-CD Set]

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BACH (attr.) THE SACRED APOCRYPHAL BACH Wolfgang Helbich, cond; Alsfelder Vocal Ens; various performers CPO 777 878-2 (8 CDs: 432: 03 Text and Translation)

BACH (attr.) Cantatas, BWV 217–222 Wolfgang Helbich, cond; Johanna Koslowsky (sop); Kai Wessel (alt); Harry Geraerts (ten); Phillip Langshaw (bs); Alsfelder Vocal Ens; Steintor Barock Bremen CPO 999 139-2 (2 CDs: 101:27 Text and Translation)

BACH (attr.) Motets, BWV Anh. 159, 160, 162–165 Wolfgang Helbich, cond; Alsfelder Vocal Ens CPO 999 235-2 (55:27 Text and Translation)

BACH (attr.) St. Luke Passion, BWV 246 Wolfgang Helbich, cond; Rufus Müller ( Evangelist ); Stephan Schreckenberger ( Jesus ); Mona Spägele (sop); Christiane Iven (alt); Harry van Berne (ten); Marcus Sandmann (bs); Alsfelder Vocal Ens; Barockorchester Bremen CPO 999 293-2 (2 CDs: 106:17 Text and Translation)

BACH (attr.) Masses, BWV Anh. 25 and 26. Magnificat, BWV Anh. 21 Wolfgang Helbich, cond; Dorothee Mields (sop); Henning Voss (alt); Henning Kaiser (ten); Ralf Grobe (bs); Alsfelder Vocal Ens; I Febiarmonici CPO 999 834-2 (51:47 Text and Translation)

BACH (attr.) Cantatas, BWV 15, 141, 142, 160 Wolfgang Helbich, cond; Dorothee Mields (sop); Henning Voss (alt); Henning Kaiser (ten); Ralf Grobe (bs); Alsfelder Vocal Ens; I Febiarmonici CPO 999 985-2 (58:48 Text and Translation)

BACH (attr.) Cantata, BWV 150. Magnificat, BWV Anh. 30. Masses, BWV Anh. 24 and 167. Sanctus, BWV 237, 239, and 240 Wolfgang Helbich, cond; Bremen Musikhochschule Solo Qrt; Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam; Alsfelder Vocal Ens; Hannover Hofkapelle CPO 777 561-2 (58:17 Text and Translation)

Conductor Wolfgang Helbich died of a stroke on his 70th birthday, on April 8, 2013. Here, CPO has assembled (by simple virtue of an outer cardboard box around the original separate releases) the six sets of eight CDs comprising Helbich’s project of recording vocal works once attributed to Bach but now (with two exceptions) generally considered to be spurious or dubious, or now definitely known to be by another composer. The dates of the recordings span 1991 to 2009 and are listed above in their original order of release. Three of them were previously reviewed in these pages: the two-CD set of cantatas by George Chien in 16:2, the St. Luke Passion by Ralph V. Lucano in 21:1, and the second disc of masses and mass movements by yours truly in 36:2. All of those performances were highly praised, and that praise is equally applicable to the other three discs in the series as well.

Given the detailed coverage given to three of the releases, I will confine myself here to an overview of the set as a whole, with a few specific comments on the three discs not previously covered. First, a scorecard of current attributions, if any, of the various compositions, in order of the sets listed above and using their front tray card titles:

Apocryphal Bach Cantatas:

BWV 217, 220, and 221—Anonymous

BWV 218 and 219—Georg Philipp Telemann

BWV 222—Johann Ernst Bach (1722–1777)

Apocryphal Bach Motets:

BWV Anh. 159—authentic J. S. Bach

BWV Anh. 160—Georg Philipp Telemann, portions reworked by Bach

BWV Anh. 162—Georg Gottfried Wagner (1698–1756)

BWV Anh. 163—Bach “di Eisenach”—unknown; possibly Johann Ernst Bach?

BWV Anh. 164—Johann Christoph Altnickol (1719/20–1759)

BWV Anh. 165—Johann Ernst Bach

Apocryphal St. Luke Passion:

BWV 246, Anh. II 30—unknown; possibly Johann Melchior Molter (1696–1765)

Apocryphal Bach Masses (and Magnificat):

BWV Anh. 21 (Magnificat)—Georg Melchior Hoffmann (c. 1679–1715)

BWV Anh. 25—unknown; Italianate in style, probably by a Neapolitan composer

BWV Anh. 26—Francesco Durante (1684–1755), revised by Bach

Apocryphal Bach Cantatas II:

BWV 15—Johann Ludwig Bach (1677–1731)

BWV 141 and BWV 160—Georg Philipp Telemann

BWV 142—unknown; possibly Johann Kuhnau (1660–1722)

Apocryphal Bach Masses II:

BWV 150 (Cantata)—authentic J. S. Bach

BWV Anh. 24 (Mass)—Johann Christoph Pez (1664–1716)

BWV Anh. 167 (Mass)—unknown

BWV Anh. 30 (Magnificat)—unknown

BWV 237, 239, and 240 (Sanctus movements)—unknown

Second, a few remarks on the three previously unreviewed discs. The unaccompanied motets all set German texts; the most substantial in terms of length are BWV Anh. 160 and BWV Anh. 163. For the latter, the suggestion of Johann Ernst Bach (the son of a second cousin of J. S. Bach) as the most likely of the Eisenach Bach clan to be the work’s author is mine, on the grounds that he personally studied with J. S. Bach, who copied out two other works by him listed above, including another motet. The one apocryphal motet that sounds most like an authentic piece by J. S. Bach, however, is BWV Anh. 164 of Johann Christoff Altnickol, a son-in-law of J. S. Bach who served as organist at the Wenzelkirche in Naumburg until his untimely death. Georg Gottfried Wagner was a pupil of J. S. Bach and of Bach’s predecessor in Leipzig, Johann Kuhnau. Like Altnickol, he obtained a lifetime appointment on the strength of a recommendation from his teacher, in Wagner’s case as Kantor to the Johanniskirche in Plauen. Only one other composition of his besides this motet is known to have survived.

Regarding the two apocryphal masses, it beggars belief that anyone would have thought either one to be by Bach given how obviously Italian they are in compositional style, though in the case of BWV Anh. 26 Bach did make some emendations to the score, particularly in the Kyrie. Francesco Durante was a Neapolitan composer of sacred music and a noted pedagogue (particularly notorious for his insistence that all his students rigidly adhere to a single unvarying set of compositional rules) who successively taught at the Conservatorio di Sant’ Onofrio and the Conservatorio di Santa Maria di Loreto. For his part, Georg Melchior Hoffmann studied first in Dresden and then in Leipzig, where he succeeded Telemann as director of the famed Collegium Musicum which J. S. Bach also would later head. During his short life-span he was both quite prolific and highly regarded. As with the apocryphal motets, his Magnificat lies squarely within the stylistic confines of the late German Baroque. As for the second disc of apocryphal cantatas, Johann Ludwig Bach was an uncle of J. S. Bach. Both the BWV 15 cantata now attributed to him, and the BWV 142 that is possibly by Bach’s Leipzig predecessor Kuhnau, exemplify the less elaborate compositional style of the generation before Bach, whereas the works by Telemann bear all the hallmarks of that composer’s sophisticated and more eclectic musical palette.

Each set within this compilation has its own booklet with CPO’s usual copious notes, artist biographies, and complete original texts with English translations. Aside from being a posthumous tribute to Helbich, however, one must also wonder if the issuance of this set also signals the end of CPO’s Apocryphal Bach project. One hopes that is not the case, for there still remain some items to be covered that could all fit onto one or two CDs. Using the Teldec Complete Bach Edition that I reviewed in 36:2 as a guide, still eligible for inclusion in this series are:

- Cantatas BWV 53 and 189 (both composed by Georg Melchior Hoffmann);

- Cantata fragments BWV 216, 223, and 224;

- Motet BWV 231 (a contrafactum of the second movement of the Cantata BWV 28, presumed to be by another hand);

- Miscellaneous fragments BWV 1081 (an introduction to a Credo by Giovanni Battista Bassani), 1082 (an adaptation of a Magnificat by Antonio Caldara), 1083 (a transcription of a Stabat mater by Giovanni Pergolesi), and 1088 (a bass arioso contributed by Bach to a Passion pastiche, the majority of it composed by Carl Heinrich Graun but also including movements by Telemann, Kuhnau, and Altnickol).

In any case, this entire set deserves a warm recommendation, which I am happy to provide.

FANFARE: James A. Altena

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777878-2

  • UPC: 761203787821

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Johann Ludwig Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach

  • Conductor: Wolfgang Helbich

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Alsfeld Vocal Ensemble, Alsfelder Vocal Ensemble, Bremen Baroque Orchestra, Bremen University Of The Arts Solo Quartet, Gesualdo Consort, Hannover Hofkapelle, I Febiarmonici

  • Performer: Christiane Iven, Dorothee Mields, Harry Van Berne, Henning Kaiser, Henning Voss, Marcus Sandmann, Mona Spägele, Ralf Grobe, Rufus Müller, Stephan Schreckenberger