Karl Richter’s recordings of Bach’s orchestral and sacred music influenced an entire generation of musicians and listeners, presenting the conductor’s unique sound and style. When Richter recorded Bach’s works, he freed them from a ponderous tradition that had mired the music in romantic sounds and idiom. Richter lightened Bach’s music, and, with an orchestra of outstanding musicians, helped bring it toward the more modern interpretations that listeners have become familiar with today. This is still a bit far from the historically-informed performances that are pretty much the norm, but there is a unity and natural originality that comes through the music in these recordings.
The recipient of the 2012 City of Leipzig Bach Medal, Masaaki Suzuki has earned an enviable reputation as an interpreter of the music of J. S. Bach as a reviewer in Intl Record Guide has put it: 'With Suzuki you can hear Bach's heart beat'. To a wide audience he is known as the director of Bach Collegium Japan, and the moving force behind the ensemble's acclaimed recordings of Bach's complete sacred cantatas. Perhaps less well known is that he began his career at the age of 12! playing the organ at church services in Kobe, where he was born. Suzuki has remained true to the organ throughout his life, and for BIS he has previously recorded Bach's German Organ Mass, as well as programs of Buxtehude and Sweelinck. He here appears on a disc combining some of Bach's best-loved works for the instrument, including the D minor Toccata and Fugue, the Partitas on O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767, the Canonic Variations, BWV769, and the celebrated Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV548.
The peal of church bells, the scent of Christmas trees and gleaming lights in every window: now all that's missing to complete the Yuletide mood is Christmas by great Baroque composers. This CD contains the most moving arias and resplendent choruses from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Handel's Messiah - the perfect music to celebrate Christmas with.
Although conductors invariably include the six great motets of Bach (BWV225-230) in recordings of these works, they seldom if ever seem to agree which if any other of Bach's motets to perform with them. John Eliot Gardiner very sensibly goes for the lot, adding Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren (BWV231) and the little-known Der Gerechte kommt um which does not even have the benefit of a Schmieder number. As well as these, Gardiner also includes two short pieces which belong, at least nominally, to the cantata category, BWV50 and BWV118. In the case of the latter there is much justification for doing so for it's a single movement choral piece in motet style written for a funeral in about 1736 and revised for a performance around 1740. Here we have what sounds to me like a compromise; in other words the horns, cornetto and sackbuts of the first version (possibly intended for an open air occasion), with the strings and woodwind of the second. This may be explained in the texts, none of which has been included with my review copy…
The Dunedin Consort’s recording of Bach’s Mass in B Minor revisits the spectacular individual virtuosity that made the Messiah recording so successful. This is the premiere recording of the work in the new Breitkopf edition, edited by Joshua Rifkin, a leading thinker in authentic period performance, who fully endorses John Butt’s interpretation. Bach’s Mass capitalizes on the very essence of the group’s skills: skilled virtuosic choral performance coupled with outstanding, characterful solo singing.
The B Minor Mass is a fine performance by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers, which is subtle and well-sung. The choir, which is fairly large at 26 singers (whereas some recordings in recent years have used much smaller groups) is nevertheless of a size that allows the individual voices to stand out in the choral melange. The instrumentalists also play in perfect balance with the choir - the obbligato instruments fit perfectly with the vocal texture, and the overall sound of the orchestra is excellent.