Bach and the Stile Antico
It seems obvious to point out Bach was a profoundly gifted contrapuntist, but this programme by St Salvator’s Chapel Choir of the University of St Andrew’s is an intelligent exploration of the direct connections between Bach’s music drawing on the stile antico (ie Renaissance-style polyphonic invention) and works by other composers that he copied, arranged and performed.
In c1735 Bach and an assistant copied out six Masses by Giovanni Battista Bassani, and the Credo from the fifth of these is performed here with Bach’s own brief introduction for choir and basso continuo (BWV1081); Bassani’s music takes over at ‘Patrem omnipotentem’ and is an attractive concertato movement in which modest solo-voice phrases and contrapuntal choral passages converse amiably with strings and continuo played expertly by Ars Eloquentiae (string sections are led by the Fitzwilliam Quartet). The choir achieves a particularly refined balance between polyphonic lines in ‘Suscepit Israel’ from a Magnificat setting by Caldara (with Bach’s added violin parts). Tom Wilkinson’s performance of the organ prelude on Kyrie, Gott heiliger Geist (BWV671) serves as a grand introduction to the Kyrie and Gloria from Palestrina’s Missa Sine nomine, which was copied and arranged by Bach c1742. But his adaptations are not observed here, the polished St Salvator’s Chapel Choir giving an a cappella reading instead.
The programme concludes with the complete Credo from the Mass in B minor (solo parts taken by talented students). The astonishing fugue in ‘Confiteor’ is perhaps Bach’s last original composition for the Mass that draws on stile antico techniques in juxtaposition to the modern movements such as the Pergolesi-influenced ‘Et incarnatus est’ – and the integration of these assorted stylistic influences is realised transparently in this unaffected and lovely performance.