This disc continues Thomas Demenga's project of juxtaposing Bach cello suites with contemporary compositions—by Elliott Carter (12/90), Heinz Holliger, and now Sandor Veress, whose music we can hear growing out of, and away from, its neo-classical roots in Bach's polyphony.
Are you ready for extreme 18th century keyboard? The typically sparse packaging graphics of this ECM release may indicate only to German speakers what's contained inside: a "Tangentenflügel" is a tangent piano, a rare keyboard instrument of Mozart's time that used hammers, striking the strings at a tangent, but no dampers. The sound combines qualities of a clavichord (its nearest relative, but the tangent piano is louder), a fortepiano, and a harpsichord.
Ushering in a new golden era for the flute as solo instrument, Jean-Pierre Rampal secured his place in the classical music firmament as the greatest flautist of the modern era. Over 25 years (1954-1982), the French virtuoso’s fruitful collaboration with Erato grew into a truly exceptional achievement in recording history: an encyclopedia of flute music in vital performances that have remained the benchmark for generations. The first complete reissue of these recordings represents the most important collection ever dedicated to a single flautist. After all, it was Jean-Pierre Rampal that taught us to love the flute.
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.