In many ways this is a special recording. It features first-desks from the Chicago Sym. playing two of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, and so far beyond the average Baroque ensemble are they that one yearns for the other four. Just to hear the amazing trumpet solos in Concerto no. 2 by the legendary Adolph Herseth repays the cost of the CD. But we also get James Levine doing double duty at the harpsichord in Concerto no. 5. One deficit from the rise of period performance is that non-specialists have been driven out. The days when an all-around musician like Levine or Leonard Bernstein performed Bach and Handel are more or less over, and their replacements, to be tactful, are not on such an exalted level of talent…. By Santa Fe Listener
Filmed in the architectural splendour of Graz's Gothic-Baroque cathedral, leading Bach authority Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducts the famed Tölz Boys Choir and his Vienna Concentus Musicus, playing on period instruments, in the most dramatic of all Passion settings. "In this performance we have attempted to realize Bach's wishes in the most authentic manner possible" (Nikolaus Harnoncourt). "A unique occasion" (Kurier).
Without doubt, the selecction of ones favourite recording within the vast sellection of interpretations of Bach's Mass in B-Minor is a difficult task. I have sung this mass and heard more than ten different recordings of this "miracle of mighty mountain range in the planet of music". For me, Hengelbrocks recording is by far the best one: first of all, Hengelbrocks interpretation is very inspired, with convincing and sometimes innovative tempi, as for instance in the opening Kyrie which, for the first time, I could sense as a funeral march; second, the chorus is brillant, for me even better than the international "stars" as for example the Monteverdi Choir; third, the Soloists wich are members of the choir, integrate perfectly in the whole picture of this master piece; fourth, the balance engineers have done an exceptional work which allows you to hear every detail of the orchestra, soloists and choirs in perfect balance.
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.
American composer, conductor and educator, Lukas Foss, has contributed profoundly to the circulation and appreciation of music from the 20th century. He began his musical studies in Berlin, where he studied piano and theory with Julius Goldstein (Herford). Goldstein introduced Foss to the music of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, which proved to have a profound effect on Foss's musical development. In 1933, Foss went to Paris, where he studied piano with Lazare Levy, as well as composition with Noel Gallon, orchestration with Felix Wolfes and flute with Marcel Moyse. Foss remained in Paris until 1937, when he moved, with his family, to the United States, where he continued his musical instruction at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In addition to his Curtis studies, Foss studied conducting with Koussevitzky during the summers from 1939 to 1943 at the Berkshire Music Center. He also studied composition with Paul Hindemith as a special student at Yale from 1939 to 1940...Lukas Foss on Napster
J S Bach wrote a bunch of cantatas (hundreds) and most of them on very short notice (usually, one week), all the while fathering a bunch of kids, and being this Giant of Western Music. No easy task. That so many of these cantatas turned out to be sublime, is nothing short of miraculous. On this video we got three such Bach cantatas, performed by the English Baroque soloists (orchestra), the Monteverdi Choir, and mezzo soprano Magdalena Kozena, all conducted by John Elliot Gardiner. For those of you whose interest is casual, please note that this ensemble and conductor are pretty much at the pinnacle of contemporary Bach performance–I am not hard put to think of words to describe their work: grace, nobility, sensitivity, and especially, a perceived commitment to the work performed by every person involved.