After its successes in the field of German Baroque religious music, here VOX LUMINIS proposes the first complete recording of the motets by Johann Sebastian Bach's ancestors. These motets, most of which are written for double choir, blend the old tradition inherited from the polyphony of the Renaissance with expressive work inspired by the fashions of the madrigal. The chorale melodies that are quite frequently associated with these motets contribute this colour typical of the Lutheran liturgical repertoire.
…The orchestra, led by violinist Michi Gaigg, is a delight to hear, a finely tuned and ideally balanced ensemble whose playing gives real drive and support to the singers–and, in these world premiere recordings, makes a strong case for hearing a lot more from J.C. The sound is exemplary.
A beguiling rarity. Johann Sebastian’s youngest and most cosmopolitan son composed this serenata in London in 1772. The plot revolves around the triangular relationship between Diana, her nymph Nice and Endymion, slyly manipulated by Cupid and culminating in the obligatory paean to love. In the booklet, Bruno Weil dubs Endimione ‘one of the first operettas’; but though there are touches of cruel humour, usually at Nice’s expense, the musical idiom and structure, based on a sequence of elaborate arias, are essentially those of opera seria. Bach’s suave, mellifluous style often sounds like Mozart minus the master’s dynamic impulse and control of long-range tensions. But there are memorable numbers here, above all in the slow cavatinas for Endymion and Diana, with their delicate, Watteau-esque sensuality. Virtually everything depends on the four principals, who all rise to their challenges. Chief honours go to Ann Monoyios, a graceful, sweet-toned Nice, and Vasiljka Jezovšek as Diana, stylish and shapely in her concerto-like aria with flute obbligato. As Cupid, Jörg Waschinski deploys that rare phenomenon, a falsetto soprano, with some panache, while Jörg Hering is personable, if faintly bland, as Endymion. Direction and orchestral playing are highly capable, with the wind relishing the lavish opportunities Bach offers them. (Richard Wigmore)
"With this work a new world opened up to us", wrote the actor singer Eduard Devrient, recalling the momentous revival of the St. Matthew Passion some forty years earlier in 1829, when he was joined by Mendelssohn, then barely out of his teens yet fully able and willing to shoulder the burden of a stupendous musical challenge. Bach's masterpiece was already one hundred years old but could look back on little more than one or two unsatisfactory performances, scant recognition, and not a note in print.
Johann Sebastian Bach is a perfect embodiment of the Baroque composer. Everything that typifies the music of that era - splendour and grace as well as complexity - is manifested at the level of genius throughout his oeuvre. In the course of his career, which took him by way of the courts of Weimar and Cothen to the Church of St. Thomas's in Leipzig, Bach set standards in composing for virtually every genre. His mastery of the technical intricacies of writing counterpoint remains unequalled, but there is never a whiff of academic dryness in his works. He also continually expanded and invigorated his musical language by absorbing stylistic elements from other composers and nations. Although relatively little is known about Bach as a person, it is certain that he was fully aware of his own unique gifts and stature. Yet he was esteemed during his lifetime chiefly as a virtuoso organist, hardly at all for his compositions. Not until half a century after his death did the musical world begin to comprehend their significance. Since then Bach's works have assumed their rightful place as a cornerstone of the musical repertoire. His importance for today is documented in the present Edition, in which some of the leading interpreters of our time present a comprehensive cross-section of his creative output.
The circumstances that moved Bach to relinquish his position as Kapellmeister in the placid town of Cothen in 1723 and to assume the succession of Johann Kuhnau as Cantor of St. Thomas's in Leipzig are, like so many factors in his biography, not easy to explain. Was it out of concern that, as a court musician, he would be obliged to neglect one of his most outstanding gifts as a virtuosic organist? was it because of his princely employer's gradual loss of interest in music in general and in his small, but exquisite court orchestra in particular? Or was it the gruelling religious conflict, a never ending source of agitation at the residence, where the conversion to Calvinism was a rather half-hearted affair and which posed a growing threat to the freedom of Bach's artistic activities? Question upon question. The fact that Bach's professional dreams were by no means to be fulfilled as Cantor in Leipzig, either, is amply documented: in an endless epistolary feud about what seem to be no more than ludicrously trivial vexations, but which none the less aggravated the burden of the virtually superhuman catalogue of his duties, he was constantly at loggerheads with his superiors.
Even as period-instrument bands dominate baroque music performance today, many small chamber orchestras demonstrate that it is possible to give stylish, restrained, crisply articulated performances of baroque music on modern instruments. When I compare this rendition of the Bach Magnificat to a period-instrument, one-singer-to-a-part version with Andrew Parrot on Virgin, the latter comes off sounding like a parody of authentic performance practice (rushed tempos, pallid vibrato-less tone, ugly lunging swells on suspensions) while this Naxos version sounds like a model of good taste and fine music making - from orchestra and vocal soloists alike.
Three of Bach's four cantatas for solo alto were written within the period of a few months in the year, 1726. It is surmised by musicologists that they were written for a specific singer, for they are very difficult, and not easily sung by the moderately skilled personage. There are strenuous technical demands on the vocal and expressive qualities of the singer, who must be an accomplished coloratura capable of expressive cantible singing as well as possessing accurate intonation. A female or a castrato voice were out of the question, but a high falsetto was not.