Not in the case of Bach's "Magnificat" anyway. There are at least fifty different available recordings of the Magnificat; most of them are worth hearing and many of them are superbly performed. There are performances conducted by Gardiner, Herreweghe, Harnoncourt, Parrott, Koopman, Kuijken, McCreesh, Fasolis, Pierlot, and Haim -- those are the ones I keep on my Bach shelf -- and all of them are excellent. If I had to choose only one, for the moment, I'd opt for Emmanuelle Haim's astoundingly energetic interpretation, despite the fact that i often hear Haim's performances as overwrought. This performance conducted by Thomas Hengelbrock deserves a place on that shelf also. If anyone reading this review has never heard the Bach Magnificat -- never truly lived, that is -- and demands to know whether I'd recommend this CD first and foremost, the answer is "no". I'd suggest Pierlot first - Bach: Magnificat - and I'd assume that the listener would be compelled to hear Haim's interpretation Bach - Magnificat / Handel - Dixit Dominus - and then ... well, each and all of them.
Despite the claims of certain nationalistic musicologists, Antonio Lotti was not a German, not born in Hanover. He was Venetian, the child of Venetian musicians, who got his musical training in Venice and apparently spent most of his career there. It was his father, Matteo Lotti, who was working in Hanover when Antonio was born. Antonio spent just two years in Dresden -- 1717-1719 -- while several of his operas were being staged there. He was, like most Italian composers of his era, best known as an opera composer. The notes that accompany this CD are delightfully informative about his life.
The Kyrie and Gloria from Lotti's Missa Sapientiae recorded here are taken from a manuscript from the collection of JS Bach, partly copied in Bach's own writing. Bach probably got score second hand, from a copy made by Johan Dismas Zelenka in Dresden. What a pedigree, eh? Bach, supposedly the all-pious Lutheran, had suddenly become enamored of the Italianate Latin Missa, for the excellent reason that he was angling for a job at the Catholic court of Dresden, or at worst a few "commissions" from that Court. He got 'scratch' for his efforts, but the interest resulted in some of his finest music, including eventually his monumental Mass in B minor.
Lotti's Missa Sapientiae -- so named by Zelenka -- sounds nothing at all like Bach or Zelenka. It's blithe and airy by comparison. Its sounds much more like the typical "numbers mass" for voices and instruments of later composers, particularly the early masses of Joseph Haydn. In such masses, each phrase of the Proper text is set separately and distinctively, with varying instrumentation and affect. Lotti's Gloria is divided into ten movements, ranging in length from a minute and a half to three and a half minutes. Masses of this sort, in that era, were essentially celebrations of civic or courtly grandeur and could extend for several hours of music.
Lotti was almost twenty years older than Bach. He could well be regarded as a major innovator of the high baroque instrumental/vocal Missa. Curiously enough, in his later years, he turned sharply away from such grandiosity and devoted himself to composing in the severe antiquated-sanctified style of Palestrina, a decision that no doubt hastened his oblivion. There are still rather few recordings of Lotti's music available, and the best of them are all performances by this "Balthasar-Neumann" ensemble, with Thomas Hengelbrock conducting.