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Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, November 2010

The choral singing and instrumental work are generally very good, and the conducting is honest, reliable, and unmannered.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Gramophone, November 2010

BACH, J.S.: Great Choral Music (Munchinger) NC8802001
DVOŘÁK, A.: Symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 / In Nature’s Realm / The Noonday Witch (Vienna Philharmonic, Ozawa) NC8802003
HAYDN, F.J.: Symphonies Nos. 6-8 (Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Marriner) NC8802006
Oboe Concertos (Baroque) – BACH, J.S. / TELEMANN, G.P. / MARCELLO, A. / SAMMARTINI, G. / ALBINONI, T.G. / LOTTI, A. / BENJAMIN, A. (Holliger) NC8802005
Vocal Recital: Souzay, Gerard – FAURE, G. / POULENC, F. / RAVEL, M. / LEGUERNEY, J. / HAHN, R. / DUPARC, H. / GOUNOD, C.-F. (Melodies Francaises) NC8802007

Newton Classics is an attractively produced budget-price label that has been drawing musically worthwhile and technically well engineered material from the archives of Universal Music. I’ve already mentioned Karl Münchinger’s Bach B minor Mass which has appeared on Newton as part of a nine-disc collection of great Bach choral works (previously on Decca). The collection also includes the St John and St Matthew Passions, the Christmas Oratorio and the Cantata BWV10. Aside from Müncinger’s dependably solid and often musically sensitive conducting of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, there’s the singing, much of it of exceptional quality, especially in the St Matthew Passion whre Peter Pears is the Evangelist and Hermann Prey is Christus, with Elly Ameling, Marga Höffgen, Fritz Wunderlich and Tom Krause. Ameling is a welcome presence throughout the set which, for the most part, wears its years lightly.

Two symphonic reissues are well worth troubling over: Seiji Ozawa’s early-’90s set of late Dvořák with the Vienna Philharmonic especially, the Eight Symphony combining tonal warmth and impressive vitality, the New World well balanced and affectionately played. Also programmed are The Noon Witch, which is given memorably dramatic performance, and the concert overture In Nature’s Realm. I often feel that catalogue ubiquity has in the past rather worked against Ozawa, whose recorded output includes many gems, and the same might be said of Sir Neville Marriner. Take Marriner’s early digital CD of Haydn’s Morning, Noon, and Night symphonies, which is alert, refined, unostentatiously characterful and superbly played. Likewise, a collection of Baroque oboe concertos with Heinz Holliger as soloist, many again with the Academy taking part (also with I Musici): Bach, Telemann, Marcello, Sammartini, Albinoni and Cimarosa arranged into a concerto by Arthur Benjamin.

As to Gerard Souzay singing “Mélodies Françaises”, what praise can I offer that hasn’t already been more eloquently expressed elsewhere? Here is the finest French baritone post-Bernare and Panzéra in the song-cycles la bonne chanson (Fauré), Histoires naturelles (Ravel) and various “mini-cycles” by Poulenc. Souzay invariably sings most beautifully and his engagement with the various texts is a great source of joy while Dalton Baldwin provides near-ideal accompaniments.

International Record Review, October 2010

Karl Münchinger’s recordings of the sacred music of Bach were the way many collectors came to know these works. We have become so used to hearing Bach on old instruments that it’s easy to forget that Harnoncourt’s radical St Matthew Passion and Christmas Oratorio weren’t made until the early 1970s. Münchinger’s more traditional recordings date from 1964 and 1966. His main competition at the time was Karl Richter. Münchinger can sound dutiful (particularly in the St John Passion and Mass in B minor), but textures are generally cleaner than Richter’s, he uses boys in the choir, and Decca’s recordings are exemplary. The St Matthew Passion and Christmas Oratorio come across particularly well.

The Decca sound in St Matthew was exceptional for its time. There’s sincerity, straightforwardness and devotion in Münchinger’s conducting, even if he doesn’t quite have the imagination of Jochum’s similarly scaled recording. Peter ears is the Evangelist, Prey is Christus; Elly Ameling, Marga Höffgen, Fritz Wunderlich and Tom Krause are the other soloists. These are singers of the highest calibre and Pears finds colours and nuances in the Evangelist role that few of his successors have matched. The Stuttgarter Hymnus-Chor includes boys’ voices, and the instrumental soloists are first-rate. Most importantly, this Matthew Passion still has the power to move.

Ameling, Pears and Krause, with Helen Watts, are the excellent soloists for the Christmas Oratorio and Münchinger draws a confident sound from the Lübeck choir. This is another performance that is thoroughly enjoyable on its own terms; it has bags of spirit and the orchestra—notably the trumpets—are terrific. The Mass in B minor uses a Viennese choir that is prone to be wobbly on top—and it’s certainly not as clean as Klemperer’s relatively small choir (EMI). It seems extraordinary that Münchinger was criticized at the time for speeds that were too brisk. Still, the opening ‘Kyrie’ moves along well and the soloists (Yvonne Minton and Werner Krenn joining the familiar Münchinger team of Ameling, Watts and Krause) are mostly good. The St John Passion (1974) has Walter Berry as a fine Christus. The Evangelist is Dieter Ellenbeck, whose bright tone won’t appeal to everyone, and Münchinger doesn’t quite recapture the quiet intensity of his Matthew Passion from a decade earlier. His bracing 1968 recording of Cantata, BWV10 (Meine Seele erhebt den Herrn) is also included. This box demonstrates that at its best Münchinger’s Bach still has much to offer.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, September 2010

I recall these Decca recordings being released as part of a 10 disc set titled Sacred Masterworks on Decca London 455 783-2 (c/w Easter Oratorio, BWV 249 and Magnificat in D, BWV 243). Münchinger and the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester use three different choirs. The Wiener Singakademiechor and the Stuttgarter Hymnus-Chor perform on two works each with the Lübecker Kantorei on a single score. There is some doubt that the Wiener Singakademiechor are the choir actually performing on the B minor Mass with the actual choir rumoured to have been formed specifically for the recording session.

In 1945 Münchinger founded and began his long association with the Stuttgarter Kammerorchester with which his name become synonymous. Jointly they left a marvellous musical legacy in the performance of J.S. Bach recorded around the 1960s and 1970s revival of interest in early music. Münchinger choose not to pack the forces with weight of numbers. In this he bucked the tradition observed by conductors such as Giulini, Jochum and Klemperer. Without attempting to recreate the conditions of the time Münchinger provides a near period-informed approach in these pioneering accounts. For example Münchinger employs a chamber-scale orchestra of ten players in the St John Passion and fourteen in the Mass in B minor using, I would guess, a mix of old and new instruments fitted with modern set-ups.

The set begins with the Bach’s famous Latin Mass in B minor,BWV 232, a masterwork from 1748/9. Composed for the Dresden Court Bach recycled in this work a considerable amount of earlier material. No one is sure why a Lutheran Cantor should have embraced the Roman Catholic Mass so enthusiastically. The work was never performed in Bach’s lifetime. It seems likely that the first complete performance was not given until around 1859 at Leipzig.

Münchinger recorded the B minor Mass with the Wiener Singakademiechor in 1970 at the Vienna Sofiensaal....In the opening duet Christe eleison the soprano soloists Elly Ameling and Yvonne Minton are beautifully matched and the effect is quite stunning...[In] Domine Deus the glorious flute-accompanied duet between soprano Ameling and tenor Werner Krenn is exceptionally well performed. Highly impressive contralto Helen Watts in Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris—with the oboe d'amore obbligato—performs with a rich and dark timbre. The tessitura of the bass aria Quoniam tu solus sanctus tests the lower registers of sturdy and versatile Tom Krause, more of a resilient baritone than a bass. The persuasive and reverential Krause is much more successful in his later aria Et in Spiritum Sanctum with the oboe d'amore obbligato. In the duet Et in unum Dominum the voices of soprano Ameling and contralto Watts blend marvellously. In his aria Benedictus, with flute obbligato, tenor Krenn is warm and smooth respectfully delivering the text with great assurance. Robust, fluid, secure and splendidly pious the singing of Watts in the arias Qui sedes and Agnus Dei with violin obbligato are highlights. In the Agnus Dei I just adored the wonderfully played string accompaniment.

The church cantata Meine Seel erhebt den Herren (My soul magnifies the Lord), BWV 10 was completed in 1724 and uses a text from Luke’s Gospel. It is an impressive seven movement score with attractive arias for soprano and for bass with a duet for contralto and bass. Karl Münchinger using the Wiener Singakademiechor recorded the cantata in 1968 at the Ludwigsburg Church of Schloss in Stuttgart.

Soprano Elly Ameling sings her aria Herr, der du stark und mächtig bist with a slightly jerky and breathless approach. The dark and threatening bass of Marius Rintzler in his aria Gewaltige stößt Gott vom Stuhl impresses greatly. The duet Er denket der Barmherzigkeit is delivered by Helen Watts and Werner Krenn with considerable assurance and appropriate veneration.

Bach’s obituary from 1750 claimed that he had written five passions. Only the St John Passion (1724) and the St Matthew Passion (1727) have survived in their entirety. From 1731 the St Mark Passion, BWV 247 appears in a reconstructed version. The St John Passion, BWV 245 was first performed in 1724 in the St Nicholas Church. Bach uses texts from chapters 18 and 19 of the St John Gospel.

In 1974 Münchinger and the Stuttgarter Hymnus-Chor used the Ludwigsburg Church of Schloss in Stuttgart to make this recording of the St John Passion. The main vocal parts are taken by tenor Dieter Ellenbeck in the role of the Evangelist Bass Walter Berry takes the part of ChriSt

Highlights include the contralto arias performed by Julia Hamari. From part 1 the aria Von den Stricken meiner Sünden and from part 2 the Es ist vollbracht! are so movingly sung by Hamari. Together with its glorious and weeping violin part. I especially enjoyed the bass arioso Betrachte, meine Seel sung so assuredly with rich and dark timbre contrasting with the agreeable lute accompaniment. Highly appealing is the aria Zerfließe, mein Herze sung by Ameling; such a bright and pious soprano. Also impressive is the tenor arioso Mein Herz, in dem die ganze Welt confidently sung by Werner Hollweg demonstrating a light, fluid and secure delivery. The closing chorale Ach Herr, lass dein lieb Engelein is wonderfully performed by the Stuttgarter Hymnus-Chor and makes a splendid conclusion.

The St Matthew Passion, BWV 244 was completed in 1727 and was given its first performance by Bach two years later at the St Thomas Church in Leipzig. The texts by Picander are settings taken from chapters 26 and 27 of the St Matthew Gospel.

Münchinger recorded the St Matthew Passion in 1964 at the Ludwigsburg Church of Schloss in Stuttgart using the Stuttgarter Hymnus-Chor. Of the major roles the part of the Evangelist is taken by tenor Peter Pears and bass Hermann Prey takes the part of Christ

I especially enjoyed the performance of the contralto arias Buß und Reu with the advantage of its lovely flute accompaniment and Erbarme dich, mein Gott with violin obbligato. Both arias are movingly sung by contralto Marga Höffgen who demonstrates a splendid technique with a richly coloured timbre. Sung with considerable feeling for the text by the bright and expressive voice of Elly Ameling the hauntingly moving soprano arias Blute nur, du liebes Herz! and Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben stay in the memory. Equally strong is the bass aria Gerne will ich mich bequemen sung with feeling and beautifully paced by Tom Krause. Tenor Fritz Wunderlich is smooth-toned and deeply reverential in his briskly taken ariaIch will bei meinem Jesu wachen.

Completed in 1734 the Christmas Oratorio,BWV 248 is a collation of material drawn from six cantatas. The recording was made by Münchinger with the Lübecker Kantorei in 1966 at the Ludwigsburg Church of Schloss, Stuttgart. Tenor Peter Pears takes the part of the Evangelist

Famously known as the ‘cradle song’ the extended alto aria Schlafe, mein Liebster is marvellously performed by Helen Watts who is a model of restraint and control. The tenor aria Nun mögt ihr stolzen is sung with impressive expression by Peter Pears. Of note is the Sinfonia that opens part 2 of the score known as the Pastorale or Shepherd’s music.

This reissue from Newton Classics includes a booklet with a concise and reasonably informative essay on the scores...It is wonderful to have these splendid recordings back in the catalogue. The sound is of a consistently agreeable quality too. This set will disappoint very few and delight many.

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9:08:03 AM, 6 May 2015
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