Here is a package that satisfies intellectual curiosity and is musically delightful. This two-disc set begins with a precise, but still musical, harpsichord performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations by Céline Frisch. Her Aria is clean, with both the melody and the bass line countermelody clear and phrased so that everything comes together well. Her ornaments fit naturally into the melodies throughout the variations, without drawing attention away from the tune, and she always has a sense of direction and forward momentum. The second disc contains the 14 canons on the first eight notes of the bass of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations and the two songs that are contained in the quodlibet near the end of the Variations. The canons are rich and warm performed by Café Zimmermann, a string sextet that includes a double bass, with excellent contrasts in the feel of each canon. The song Cabbages and Turnips Have Driven Me Away is the highlight of the two discs. Period instruments accompany Dominique Visse as he sings about a hunter bringing a girl home to meet his mother. Visse switches from a jolly, idiomatic tenor voice for the hunter to a smooth alto for the girl, and a slightly grating alto for the mother, often in mid-verse.
The appetite for evolving performance practices in Bach’s St Matthew Passion appears undiminished as we have gradually shifted, over the generations, from larger to smaller ensembles and also towards a greater dramatic understanding of the implications of Bach’s ambitious ‘stereophonic’ double choir and orchestra choreography.
Very few conductors have recorded as much Bach as Karl Richter and none can lay a stronger claim to a legacy based on championing the master. Richter's reverence for Bach is evinced by the simplicity, splendor, and grandeur with which he consistently imbued his performances exemplified here by these landmark recordings of the Brandenburg Concertos and Orchestral Suites. In Archiv's original-image bit-processing remastered transfers as well, the sound is better than ever. This is cornerstone Bach that should not be missed.
Rarely do we feel the presence of Bach so vividly on a recording as we do here with this set of Trio Sonata arrangements, performed by violins, viola da gamba, and harpsichord. What a perfect combination, thanks to Richard Boothby's settings and to the wonderfully synergistic interaction among these very experienced early music players–violinists Catherine Mackintosh (in her best recorded performance in a while) and Catherine Weiss, gambist Boothby, and harpsichordist Robert Woolley.
This long-deleted Essential Classics reissue (available again courtesy of Arkivmusic.com’s on-demand reprint program) comprises the first CD remastering of two separate Bach piano releases. One disc features Rosalyn Tureck’s Bach Album, an early-1981 digital production made up mostly of short pieces, plus the Aria and Variations in Italian Style. The close-up yet warm sonics capture the full measure of Tureck’s technical specificity, subtle use of color, and micromanaged dynamics. Notice her absolute linear control in the F minor suite’s Prelude (first sound clip), or how her seemingly over-detached articulations (the seventh Italian variation) always maintain a lilting presence.
Norwegian folk musician Sinikka Langeland, singer and player of the kantele (the Finnish table harp) is a distinctly non-traditional traditionalist, redefining "folk" in successive projects. 'Maria's Song' finds her in the company of two distinguished classical musicians - organist Kare Nordstoga and "giant of the Nordic viola" Lars Anders Tomter - and on a mission to restore Marian texts to sacred music, weaving folk melodies in between the timeless strains of J S Bach. Langeland made a lot of friends with her sparkling ECM debut Starflowers: "There are jewels everywhere on this arresting example of ego-free music-making. One of the albums of this or any other year" raved the Irish Times. Where Starflowers brought Langeland into the orbit of jazz improvisers, Maria's Song is a meeting and cross referencing of folk and 'classical' energies, and also a righting of historical 'injustice': Religious folk songs are amongst the most distinctive elements of the Norwegian folk tradition, yet the Virgin Mary rarely appears in them. Once a much-worshipped figure in the Far North she was, as Sinikka puts it, "reformed" away in 1537, so this album brings Maria back into the music. It was recorded in the beautiful Nidaros Cathedral of Trondheim, famous for its Baroque organ heard here.
None of these reconstructions are included in Teldec’s Bach 2000, although the better-known ‘originals’ obviously are. The real newcomer is the Sinfonia, BWV1045 (5'34'') ‘to an unknown cantata’ which – as befits a BWV number that immediately precedes the First Brandenburg Concerto – is rumbustious, festive and thematically likeable. Time and again I could sense allusions to other Bach instrumental pieces, though the soloist’s ceaseless arpeggiating is sometimes a distraction. We’re told it’s authentic (the manuscript source suggests a violin concerto in the making) but something about its harmonic language doesn’t quite ring true, though that reaction might well be due to lack of familiarity.