Since the additional movements of the Roman Catholic Mass (Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Credo) that appear in his B minor Mass were excluded, Bach's four missa breves (short masses) are essentially two-movement Lutheran works. Naturally, Bach being Bach, he subdivided the expansive Gloria into five shorter movements; set the texts as arias, duets, and choruses; and used an orchestra ensemble including strings, flutes, oboes, trumpets, and organ as a powerful and colorful accompaniment. But at the heart of all four works is the austere faith of Martin Luther, and the German reformer's strength, severity, and occasional sentimentality is at the spiritual core of Bach's sacred music.
Handel's Concerti Grossi opus 6 must surely be ranked as some of the greatest orchestral music ever composed. Probably penned in or around 1739, the pieces were developed to serve as orchestral "interludes" for other operatic or oratorio performances. To listen to them, however, is to tempt us not believe that this could possibly be the case: the Concerti Grossi opus 6 works are without doubt among the pinnacle of Baroque composition. After listening to these, we are left with a distinct sadness that Handel did not turn his attention more to this genre, as his masterful treatment in the opus 6 shows us his true genius.
“[These suites] have rarely been recorded or promoted by harpsichordists during the most recent revival of interest in ‘early music.’” I realize that Richard Egarr is entitled to his own opinions—his liner notes on an earlier release, for example, likened the humor in Purcell’s harpsichord music to that of the wonderful old 1950s BBC comedy The Goon Show —but he’s not entitled to his own facts. Christopher Brodersen pointed out in a 2011 review of these works featuring Laurence Cummings ( Fanfare 34:5) that ArkivMusic listed nine complete sets played on the harpsichord, with several others on the piano. I find some of the suites have considerably more recordings than that, in 2014: 26 for the Suite in A Major, 28 for the Suite in D Minor, 25 for the Suite in E Minor, 47 for the Suite in E Major. If such numbers reflect rare recordings, I have to wonder what Egarr would consider a moderate number, let alone a frequent one.
The contents of the EMI box are too numerous to list but all the sonatas, variations, and most short pieces are here: absent is the London Sketchbook, which is trite juvenalia.