Virtuosi

Virtuosi
Johann Sebastian Bach & Prinz J E v. Sachsen-Weimar
Thüringer Bach Collegium, Gernot Süßmuth
audite 97.790. 66’54

The Thüringer Bach Collegium are based in Arnstadt, home to various Bachs since 1620 and one of five Thuringian towns associated with the young Bach. In 1703, at just 18 years old, Bach (then a court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar) was asked to check the new organ of the Arnstadt Neue Kirche and was soon after was appointed as organist. He stayed for four years, apparently “confusing” the congregation with his harmonisation of the chorales and running into probems with singers and the church authorities, culminating in his famous 1705/6 walk to hear Dieterich Buxtehude in Lübeck, overstaying his approved absence by several weeks. 

He then moved briefly to Mühlhausen (and was succeded by his cousin Johann Ernst Bach) before returning to Weimar as organist and director of music where he met the young music-loving, and tragically short-lived, Prince Johann Ernst IV of Sachsen-Weimar, nephew of the reigning Duke and a pupil of bach’s cousin, Johann Gottfried Walther. Bach knew the young prince’s compositions and arranged some of his Italian-influenced concertos for keyboard. The Thüringer Bach Collegium’s debut recording was of some of the concertos of the Prince.

This recording feature two examples of Bach’s organ versions of Johann Ernst’s composition, the three-movement Concerto for Organ in G, BWV592 and the short Concerto, BWV595. Although most of the recording was made in the Oberkirche rather than the Bachkirche (formally the Bonifaziuskirche or Neue Kirche), I am told that the organ pieces were recorded in the Bach church, although there is no indication in the CD notes to confirm that. The Bachkirche organ has changed a lot since Bach’s days, but has its roots in the 1703 organ with the case and some of the pipework that Bach knew. It is far closer to the sound world of Bach than the 1902 Sauer in the Oberkirche. Jörg Reddin plays with clarity and precision.

The other organ piece is an Allegro from Walther’s Concerto in D minor, an arrangment of a piece by Torelli. The young Prince is represented by a reconstruction of violin concerto. The remaining Bach pieces put the soloists of the Thüringer Bach Collegium through their paces – Gernot Süßmuth, David Castro-Balbi & Raphael Hevicke, violins, and, in particular, oboist Clara Blessing.

One of the problems with this recording is the availability of all the pieces on other recordings, performed, dare I say, by rather more sophisticated ensembles. The playing here has a rather rustic quality, with punchy rhythms and forceful playing. The recorded sound adds to the boldness of the performance with a very close acoustic image, as though you are sitting in the front pew of the church. A promotional video can be viewed here.

BBC Proms: Bach & Handel

BBC Proms: Bach & Handel
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Ann Hallenberg
Royal Albert Hall, 1 September 2021

Handel: Donna, che in ciel HWV 233
Bach: Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4
Handel: Dixit Dominus

Eschewing all the social distancing provisions that the BBC Proms had arranged for orchestras, John Elliott Gardiner’s own Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists crammed tight onto the (specially enlarged) Royal Albert Hall stage for a performance of two pieces seemingly written for the same Sunday in 1707 by two 22-year-old composer, Bach and Handel, both at the start of their very different careers. This review is based on the BBC Four televised broadcast.

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BBC Proms: Organ recital 2

BBC Proms: Organ recital 2
Peter Holder, organ
Royal Albert Hall, 4 September 2021

Meyerbeer: Le prophète Coronation March, transcr. W. T. Best
Bach: Fantasia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 537
Widor: Symphony No. 5 – Allegro vivace (1st movt)
Saint-Saens: Fantaisie No. 1 in E flat major
Liszt: Fantasy & Fugue on ‘Ad nos, ad salutarem undam

The second of this year’s BBC Proms organ recitals was given by Peter Holder, sub-organist of Westminster Abbey, replacing Thomas Trotter. As part of the joint anniversaries of the Royal Albert Hall and centenary composer Saint-Saëns, the programme recreated elements of Saint-Saëns’ legendary performances on the Royal Albert Hall organ in the opening season of 1871 and in 1880.

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Bach: Harpsichord Concertos II

Bach: Harpsichord Concertos II
Francesco Corti, il Pomno d’Oro
Pentatone PTC 5186 889. 61’36

Cover J.S. Bach: Harpsichord Concertos, Vol. 2

This is the second of a two-disc series of the Bach harpsichord concertos. It includes Concertos No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1054, No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056, and No. 6 in F Major, BWV 1057, and, to complete the timing, the Concerto for harpsichord, flute and violin in A Minor, BWV 1044. The choice of concertos for the two discs was based on the orchestration forces, with these concertos using solo, rather than multiple strings. The balance works well in all four concertos.

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Bach: Well-tempered Consort- II

J S Bach: Well-tempered Consort – II
Phantasm
Linn CKD657. 70’05

cover-CKD657

Phantasm’s first ‘Well-tempered Consort’ recording, reviewed here, was a rather anarchic collection of Bach keyboard pieces arranged for viol consort. This, their second recording on the same theme, is far more coherent, combining Preludes and Fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Of the 24 tracks, seven are from Book I, the rest from Book II. It is not surprising that there are far more fugues than preludes on the recording, with just six prelude and fugue pairs. The tracks are not in key order, but make perfect sense in terms of key relationships and mood. Four tracks are transposed down a semitone: the C# pair, and the F# and D# minor fugues.

Any reservations I might have had over their first recording are resolved here. The balance between the instruments is perfect, as it should be, particularly for the fugues. They avoid the temptation to accent fugal entries and, although there are far more subtle nuances of tone on an individual note available on a viol than on a keyboard instrument, such expressive devices are only used with sensitivity.

The programme notes are rather too romantic and flowery for my taste, as can often be the case when written by an academic. “Even the slightest musical turn of phrase might trigger intense disquisitions on the human condiction” is one such example.

It was recorded in Magdalen College Chapel, Oxford over a four day period. The recording rate of some six tracks a day is reflected in the quality of the performance. Despite the size of the space, the acoustic remains suitably domestic in scale.

BBC Proms: Organ Recital 1

BBC Proms: Organ Recital 1
Bach and Improvisations
Martin Baker
Royal Albert Hall, 1 August 2021

Yet again, the BBC Proms has programmed an organ recital at a time (11:45 on a Sunday morning) when most organists are at work. A modest audience was the obvious result. It was originally intended to have been given by Oliver Latry, organist at Notre Dame but Covid-related travel problems resulted in Martin Baker stepping in at short notice to replicate the planned programme of Bach and improvisations. The Royal Albert Hall opened in 1871, along with the mighty Father Willis organ, then powered by two steam engines and now magnificently restored by Manders. Subsequent alterations and rebuilds have now resulted in 9,999 pipes that would stretch for nine miles if laid end to end. Bizarrely, it has its own Twitter account!

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Bach Rework’d

Bach Rework’d
A film by Matt Belcher
Spitalfields Music Festival

Premiere 5 July 2021

Spitalfields Music continues to promote early and contemporary music, currently through the Spitalfields Music Festival 2021 and a series of events, some online and all ‘live’ in Covid-secure conditions. One of the early online events was the premiere of a new film by Matt Belcher, commissioned by Spitalfields Music, exploring “the enduring power of Bach’s music” through the experience of four composers. The documentary explored the importance of music for them over the past year, the works by Bach that have inspired them, and their own musical responses to those works as they returned to post-pandemic performance.

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OAE: Sea Voyages and Salvation

Sea Voyages and Salvation
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Roderick Williams, Kati Debretzeni
Recorded at New St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence
First broadcast on OAE Player 8 June 2021

Graupner Fahre auf in die Höhe 
Telemann Concerto for 3 oboes & 3 violins in Bb
Bruhns Mein Herz ist bereit  
JS Bach Cantata BWV 56 Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen 


The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment continue with their Covid series of on-line OAE Player concerts with Sea Voyages and Salvation, with music by Grauper, Telemann and Bruhns, culminating in Bach’s cantata Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen. Whether by design or default, two of the composers were the first and second choices for the post of Thomaskantor in Leipzig which Bach was eventually offered after Graupner and Telemann turned it down.

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Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach

Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach
Music by Baltzar, Matteis, Westhoff, Torelli, Corelli,

Vilsmayr, Pisendel, Purcell and Biber
Nadja Zwiener, Violin

Genuin GEN 21728. 65’57

Well known in the UK as the leader of The English Concert and in Germany as leader of the Bachakademie Stuttgart, Senza Basso — Auf dem Weg zu Bach (Without bass — on the way to Bach) is violinist Nadja Zwiener‘s first solo CD. It explores a fascinating genre of music for solo violin preceding Bach’s famous 1720 Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin. In his programme essay ‘Melodic polyphony, polyphonic melody – composing senza basso in the Baroque era’, Michael Maul points out the challenges of composing, playing and listening to music with a normal bass line, describing it as “an art of omission and of sensing the unplayed”.

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Bach: Matthew Passion – Amici Voices

Bach: Matthew Passion
Amici Voices
Filmed in St John’s, Smith Square
First broadcast 3 April 2021

Before the 2020 Covid-19 sequence of lockdowns, the run-up to Easter in London was musically dominated by the St John’s, Smith Square series of concerts. These traditionally culminated in a Messiah and one of the Bach Passions for the final two sell-out concerts. The concert recorded there by Amici Voices and first broadcast on Easter Saturday was as far removed from previous years as you can get. Their Matthew Passion was performed in the round in the middle of the space with no audience. It was a very refreshing alternative to the usual Easter fare.

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Suonare è danzare

Suonare è danzare
Academy of Ancient Music, Laurence Cummings, Bojan Čičić
Live from West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge. 12 February 2020

Muffat Armonico Tributo Sonata in G
Bach Sonata in E minor for violin and keyboard, BWV 1023
Telemann Concerto polonoise in B flat major
Handel  Sonata in G Op.5, No.4

It is often said by music commentators that practically all Baroque music is fundamentally based on dance. Dance was certainly a key part of 18th century life, a fundamental part of the education system, and underpinned many aspets pf social and political discourse. This is the first of a three-concert mini-festival from AAM Live 2021, live-streamed (via ticket purchase) from their Cambridge home in the West Road Concert Hall. The Acadamy of Ancient Music under Laurence Cummings (pictured), their Music Director designate, directing from the harpishcord, joined with the AAM leader, violinist Bojan Čičić for a programme of music in celebration of dance.

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OAE Player: Seeing Double

Seeing Double’
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Jonathan Cohen
Kati Debretzeni, Nicola Benedetti, Rudolfo Richter
Katharina Spreckelsen, Sarah Humphrys
OAE Player. 19 November 2020

Avision Concerto Grosso no.5 in D minor
Vivaldi Concerto in D for two violins RV 513
Vivaldi Concerto in D for two violins RV 514
Vivaldi Concerto in A minor for two oboes RV 536
Bach Concerto in D minor for two violins BWV 1043
Purcell Rondeau from Abdelazer

The second of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s premieres on their digital platform OAE Player was a concert of Vivaldi and Bach double concertos recorded at the Snape Maltings in front of a socially-distanced audience. Many people will have already heard or seen an expanded version of the programme as one of the live concerts of the much reduced 2020 BBC Proms season. The principal violin soloist for both concerts should have been Alina Ibragimova, but the death of her father (the distinguished double bass player Rinat Ibragimov) the day before the Prom resulted in Nicola Benedetti stepping in for the Proms and this concert, which seems to have been recorded the following day in the far more suitable acousics of the Snape Maltings.

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OAE Player: Apollo e Dafne

Apollo e Dafne
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Roderick Williams
Rowan Pierce, Katharina Spreckelsen
OAE Player. 9 November 2020

Telemann Der am Ölberg zagende Jesus TWV 1: 364
JS Bach Cantata, Ich habe Genug BWV 82
Handel Concerto Grosso Op. 3 No. 2/1
Handel Apollo e Dafne HWV 122

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) has responded to the Covid crisis by opening a new digital platform, OAE Player. For this Premiere Night concert, they were billed as returning to their resident home at the Southbank Centre for the first time since the first lockdown although, as you will read, that turned out to be not quite the reality. Each of the filmed concerts (there are currently twenty available on the OAE Player) are available to watch individually for a great deal less than a concert ticket (and without the costs of travel) or there is an option of accessing all the concerts with an annual pass.

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Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier II

Bach: Das Wohltemperierte Klavier Volume 2
Steven Devine, harpsichord
Resonus Classics RES10261. 2 CDs. 73’03+75’42

Following his Volume 1 of Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier reviewed here), Steven Devine returns with a very welcome recording of Bach’s second book of Preludes & Fugues, published around 20 years after the first book. Unlike the Book 1 Preludes and Fugues (BWV 846-869) which survive in Bach’s autograph, Book 2 (BWV 870-893) has two principal sources with contribtions by Bach’s family, but only one withs any evidence of Bach’s hand.

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Master Musicians: Bach

Bach
David Schulenberg
Oxford University Press
: Master Musicians series
Hardback, 448 pages, 235x156x23mm, ISBN13: 9780190936303

Bach must be one of the most written about of all composers, so the addition of another outline of his life and music needs to have something extra to offer. Bach scholarship continues to discover new works and new evidence and ideas about his life and music. Since Malcolm Boyd’s original 1983 Master Musicians Bach volume and its three revisions, understanding of Bach and his music’s historical and cultural context has shifted substantially, reflecting new biographical information and insights. So David Schulenberg’s contribution to the Master Musicians series is very welcome.

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Duo1702+ – Coffee Edition

Duo1702+Coffee Edition
Louise Hjorth Hansen, recorder Katrine I. Kristiansen, organ
Gateway DUO170201. 58’56

Baroque music in the name of coffee – induced by Covid-19” is the sub-text of this recording from Duo1702 and friends. Made in response to the Covid crisis, the two Danish members of Duo1702, Louise Hjorth Hansen, recorder, and Katrine Kristiansen, organ, are joined by five of their musical friends to perform music by Bach, Finger, Telemann, Morten Ræhs, Purcell, and Vivaldi. Their intention is to recreate the atmosphere of the Zimmermann Kaffeehaus in Leipzig where Bach and his sons made music to the accompanyment of coffee drinking.

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Bach: The Trio Sonata Project

JS Bach: The Trio Sonata Project
Tripla Concordia, Walter Van Hauwe
Outhere/Arcana A114. 63’08

The tradition of rearranging music for different forces is a long one, and one that Bach himself used frequently. The Bach ‘Trio Sonata Project’ is inspired by this practice, and includes one piece that Bach himself arranged from an earlier work of his (BWV 1027). The other transcribed pieces are BWV 527, 997, 1028 & 1029. Three of them were originally for viola da gamba and harpsichord, one for lute, and one from the famous set of organ Sonatas.  Continue reading

Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin

JS Bach: Sonatas & Partitas for solo violin
Thomas Zehetmair
ECM New Series 2551/52. 2CDs, 59’21+67’12

Sei Solo - The Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo

After first recording the Bach solo violin works in 1982 on a modern violin, albeit with more than a nod to the then-current notions of early performance practice, Thomas Zehetmair now returns with a Baroque instrument and two period bows, one for the Partitas, and the other for the Sonatas. It is recorded in a very generous acoustic, far removed from the possible chamber acoustic that Bach may have had in mind. But the violin speaks clearly though the background bloom, aided by Zehetmair’s careful articulation. Continue reading

Variations: Goldberg & Topelius

Goldberg Variations & Topelius Variations
Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, Henning Kraggerud
Simax PSC1353. 74’20

Bach: Goldberg Variations (arr. Kraggerud & Lund)
Henning Kraggerud: Topelius Variations

This is a combination of an arrangement for string orchestra of Bach’s Goldberg Variations with a set of variations composed in 2017 by Henning Kraggerud, the leader of the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. It was inspired by the life of the Swedish-speaking Finn, Zachris Topelius (1818-1898), a historian and a writer of essays, poems, fairytales and children’s stories, who helped to develop a Finnish identity as it moved towards eventual independence. Continue reading

Bach: An Italian Journey

Bach: An Italian Journey
Luca Oberti, harpsichord
Outhere/Arcana A443. 71’18

This 2018 release is from a harpsichord player that I am not familiar with. His programme gathers together pieces with an Italian influence, including transcriptions of concertos by Vivaldi and Marcello, and pieces of Italian inspiration like the Aria Variata alla maniera Italians and the Capriccio sulla lontananza del fratello dilettissimo. It finishes, inevitably, with the Italian Concerto. Continue reading

Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier Book II

J S Bach: Well-Tempered Clavier Book II
Céline Frisch, harpsichord
Outhere/Alpha Classics: Alpha 451. 2 CDs. 69’45+76’06

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book II
Following on from her CD of Book I of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Céline Frisch (o-founder of the Café Zimmermann ensemble) now offers us Book II. It was completed twenty-two years after Book I, in 1744. It was recorded on a 1998 two manal copy by Andrea Restelli of the single manual 1738 Christian Vater harpsichord now in the Germanisches National Museum, Nuremberg. Continue reading

Bach: Johannes-Passion

J S Bach: Johannes-Passion
Collegium Vocale Gent, Philippe Herreweghe
Outhere/PHI LPH031. 2CDs 107’08

 

Cover of CD of Herreweghe Bach Johannes Passion

I can often predict the way in which a performance of the Johannes-Passion is going to develop by the manner in which the opening instrumental bars are performed. The texture appears simple. Swirling low strings underpinned by the repetitive pulse of continuo bass, with two oboes slowly intertwining dissonance-laden melodic lines above them. It is one of those passages of music that can be interpreted in many ways, resulting in differing moods ranging from sinister, threatening, mysterious, to gently calming. Continue reading

Bach: Well-Tempered Consort 1

J S Bach: Well-Tempered Consort – 1
Phantasm
Linn CKD 618. 66’55

Cover CKD 618

This CD could well become essential listening for all organists and harpsichord players, alongside the various examples of Bach organ works played on recorder consorts. Transferring Bach’s keyboard works, such as The Well-Tempered Clavier, Musical Offering and Clavier-Übung III, to a viol consort reveals the sensitivity of timbre possible with bowed string instruments rather than a plucked or wind-blown one. Of course, keyboard players have their own, often complex, way of imparting musical expression to their playing within the limitations of their particular instrument, principally by using aspects of touch and articulation. But it is only the clavichord, which was arguably the instrument of choice in the Baroque era, that has the ability to change the nature of the sound of a note once it has started sounding, using the technique known as bebung which imparts a controllable vibrato to sounding notes.

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Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Book One

JS Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Book One
Colin Booth, harpsichord
Soundboard SBCD218. 2CDs, 59’31+62’12

This is the first of two double-CD volumes of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (The Well-Tempered Clavier) from Colin Booth. It covers the 24 Preludes and Fugues (BWV846-869) written in all 24 major and minor keys forming what is now known as Book 1 of ‘The 48’. It only survives in manuscript copies from 1722, with no printed edition unto around 1800. The manuscript title page announces that it was composed “for the profit and use of musical youth desirous of learning, and especially for the pastime of those already skilled in this study”. Continue reading

J S Bach: Soprano Arias & Swedish Folk Chorales

J S Bach: Soprano Arias & Swedish Folk Chorales
Maria Keohane, Camerata Kilkenny
Maya Recordings MCD1901. 58’10

This recording contrasts the little-known genre of Swedish Dalakorals with seven Bach soprano arias, all with obligato violin. The Dala chorales come from the region of Darlana in the centre of Sweden and the 16th-century Protestant Reformation. The first Lutheran Psalm book was published in 1695 and included many of these melodies. They are influenced by folk song and pre-Reformation melodies combined with an improvisatory practice common in village churches. Continue reading

Bach: Sei Suonate

J S Bach: Sei suonate à cembalo certato è violino solo
Chiara Zanisi, Giulia Nuti
Outhere/Arcana A426. 2CDs, 41’16+54’03

Bach’s Six sonatas for violin and obbligato harpsichord (BWV 1014–1018) were first composed during Bach last few years in Köthen (c1720-23) although he continued to revise them after his move to Leipzig in 1723, from where all the surviving sources are found.  This recording, released in 2017, features  violinist Chiara Zanisi and Giulia Nuti, harpsichord. Continue reading

Bach: Cantatas and Arias for Bass

Bach: Cantatas and Arias for Bass
Dominik Wörner, Zefiro, Alfredo Bernardini
Arcana A466. 62’17


Cantata: Ich habe genung BWV 82
Aria: Gott ist gerecht from Cantata: Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort BWV 20
Cantata: Der Friede sei mit dir BWV 158
Aria: An irdische Schatze das Herze zu hangen from Cantata: Ach wie fluchtig, ach wie nichtig BWV 26
Cantata: Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen BWV 56
Aria: Warum willst du so zornig sein from Cantata: Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott  BWV 101

One of the problems that Bach encountered on his arrival in Leipzig was the quality of the available musicians, in comparison to those employed by the Köthen court Kapelle. Bass singers seem to have been a particular problem, perhaps ineveitable in a boys choir, although, as Peter Wollny explains in is excellent notes, most of the musicians that Bach could draw on were only around for relatively short time. Six bass singers are specifically named, one becoming his own son-in-law. Continue reading

Solarium

Maxime Denuc: Solarium
Cindy Castillo, organ
VLEKD31   94’36

Solarium is a piece for organ, first performed by Cindy Castello in l’église du Gesu, Toulouse during the 2019 Électro Alternativ festival. It is an hour-and-a-half organ piece intended for “… that period of slack that follows the frenzy of a techno-fuelled night” and took place at 10am on a Sunday morning as an “after-party”. I am not sure that many organists get up to frenzied techno-fuelled nights, but there is much here for organists to appreciate, not least the extraordinary sounds that a traditional pipe organ can produce, as well as anybody interested in the techno world of ambient minimalist music. Continue reading

Von Westhoff: Suites for Solo Violin

Johann Paul von Westhoff: Suites for Solo Violin
Plamena Nikitassova
Outhere: Ricercar RIC 412. 56’59

Johann Paul von Westhoff (1656-1705) was one of the leading members of the flourishing school of Dresden-based violinists during the latter decades of the 17th-century. He was born in Dresden. His father was a lutenist and trombone player from Lübeck, who had briefly been a captain of horse in the Swedish army. Apart from influence from his father, the young Westhoff also learnt while serving in the Dresden Hofkapelle. He was one of the first to compose music for unaccompanied violin, a genre that culminated with Bach. This excellent recording by Plamena Nikitassova reveals the enormous talents of this adventurous composer. Continue reading

JS Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo

J S Bach: Six Suites for Viola Solo
Kim Kashkashian
ECM New Series ECM 2553/54. 2CDs 65’05+77’26

Six Suites for Viola Solo

Yes, you read the title correctly – these are Bach’s six ‘Cello’ Suites, but are here played on a viola by the distinguished American violist Kim Kashkashian. With no original manuscript in Bach’s own hand, there have been many questions about these Suites, one being what type of instrument they were actually written for. Continue reading