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.
Composed in 1778, J.C. Bach's La Clemenza di Scipione is a nice, direct, fat-free work. The arias tend to be short (not one of them is a da capo), the recitatives are to the point and likewise brief, and the action moves swiftly. Roman Scipio (tenor) has taken Cartagena and Spanish soprano princess Arsinda (and her soprano pal, Idalba) prisoner. Male soprano, fellow non-Roman Lucieo, is betrothed to Arsinda, while the Roman general Marzio (tenor) is in love with Idalba and vice-versa. The whole plot revolves around the heroic Lucieo's attempts to rescue Arsinda, et al., his being taken prisoner, and his being threatened by death if he refuses to pledge allegiance to Rome. He never does give in, but Scipio does–hence the clemency–and Scipio gives everyone their freedom once he realizes how impressive a gal Arsinda is. Everyone swears loyalty to Rome. Hooray! There's plenty of room for grief arias, anger arias, revenge arias, why-is-my-life-so-dreadful arias, and if-only-I-could-end-your(-my)-suffering arias, in many tempos.
Written for London audiences in 1770, Johann Christian Bach’s only extant oratorio, Gioas, Re di Guida, is a proverbial curate’s egg. Attempting to please both those weaned on Handel and those hoping to hear the oratorio genre given a rococo makeover, it failed to please either. Such was London’s veneration for the spirit of Handel that Bach was booed when he dared play an organ interlude between acts; and despite George III’s patronage, the work was soon neglected. Audiences of the time simply did not want to hear Italian operatic conventions in their oratorios.
Over 200 years later, such considerations are, thankfully, far less important. While it remains slightly disconcerting to hear quasi-Handelian choruses interpolated into what is in every other respect an opera seria, Bach’s graceful galant manner and his easy, fluid way with vocal melody remain as delightful as ever throughout an increasingly dramatic succession of accompanied recitatives, arias and duets. The fulsome choruses themselves turn out to be the work’s most colourful elements.