"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.
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.
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
“Here Claudio Abbado is gambolling among the Brandenburg Concertos in this straightforward TV-style concert film, recorded in the classic 19th-century opera house at Reggio Emilia during an Italian tour in spring 2007. The orchestra is at first glance a curious gathering, mixing 'Baroque' players such as violinist Giuliano Carmignola and harpsichordist Ottavio Dantone with 'modern' names such as trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich and 'un-Baroque' recorder-player Michala Petri. Furthermore, a look round the instruments reveals mostly modern models, some hybrids…” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
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.
This recording is something of a throwback to earlier days of the original instrument movement. The Collegium Aureum was an early exponent of this, and the 1966 recording of the JS Bach shows how this movement has evolved. Wonderful trumpets, struggling with the tessitura and tuning, and the (probably) part-time early music oboists, point up the most obvious difference. Early music was a labor of love in the 1960's, not a full time job. Which make me wonder if today's "authentic" performances aren't too clean, and too polished. How much rehearsal time did the "old wig" get, anyway, especially with works that were being given their premiere performances? Charles Rosen said that a truly authentic performance is impossible, you're either too early or too late.
Aurele Nicolet is a Swiss flutist whose recordings of Bach and Mozart have received considerable critical acclaim. A remarkable stylist, Nicolet has been praised for meticulously nuanced and elegant playing. Having established himself as a pre-eminent performer of Bach and Mozart, Nicolet dedicated himself to contemporary music, playing works that prominent composers – including Klaus Huber, Toru Takemitsu, György Ligeti, Edison Denisov, and Heinz Holliger – had dedicated to him…
This recording is, quite frankly, a marvel. In the opening bars of the Kyrie, where tradition dictates a powerful, agonized cry for mercy, Philippe Herreweghe offers a gentle, awestruck plea that took this listener's breath away. Extroverted movements like the Gloria, Et resurrexit, and Sanctus lack nothing in excitement; Qui tollis and Dona nobis pacem feel like fervent prayers… – Matthew Westphal