Kagel's conundrum is this: Saint Bach is either a unique musical phenomenon, perhaps the only instance of such divinely made (not just inspired) music, thus rendering him incomparable and even incommensurable to all other composers, or Bach's saintliness is a possibility that any composer might attain and thus "Saint Bach" is a representation of "the composer" him/herself in his/her fullest attainment. If this is the case, what other composers might Kagel also be a saint? Himself? As I said, Kagel confronts us with the most challenging epistemological conundrum any recent composer to my knowledge has laid down. And I suspect attentive listeners will be wrestling with his conundrum for generations to come, either infuriated by its seeming audacity, or humbled by its remarkable devotion. In any case, some of those infuriated and humbled listeners will return to Kagel's music with a culminating sense of marvel at its emotion and elegant design that will seem at times to be Bach's music itself wearing an astonishingly contemporary garb.
Anne Sofie Von Otter, Hans-Peter Blochwitz, Roland Hermann, Peter Oggisch, Gerd Zacher, Stuttgart Sudfunkchor, Limburger Cathedral Boys Choir, Hamburg Radio Chorus, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mauricio Kage / Conductor
J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245 – one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five – is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach's lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material. The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts – which seem to have been hasty ones – are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach's tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.
Fifteen years after his recording of Bach’s three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (on hm, with Rinaldo Alessandrini), Paolo Pandolfo returns to this repertoire a new approach: the fruit of active and concentrated years of consideration, study and research into the inherent possibilities of his instrument. Given the basic differing natures of these two instruments, the performance of these works very often turns – in Pandolfo’s words – into a “musical argument”, rather than what is demanded by the music’s essential nature: a “musical conversation” in which the score achieves “transparency and eloquence”.
As before with the St. Matthew Passion, star director Peter Sellars succeeded in creating a staging which made the spiritual and dramatic content of the Passion story even more intensive. The New York Times also praised the “brilliant and energetic” playing of the orchestra, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the “haunting, almost unsurpassable singing of all those involved.”
Sir Simon Rattle was in no doubt: the performance of the St. Matthew Passion which he realized together with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Rundfunkchor Berlin in 2010 was for him “the single most important thing we ever did here.” Critics around the world agreed. They praised the semi-staged “ritualization” by American star-director Peter Sellars, as well as the outstanding musical performances by the soloists, including Magdalena Kozená, Christian Gerhaher, Thomas Quasthoff, and Mark Padmore as the Evangelist.
The Ensemble Pygmalion directed by Raphaël Pichon commences its collaboration with Harmonia Mundi with this new recording of J.S. Bach’s lost music to the Köthener Trauermusik (Cöthen funeral music), BWV 244a. Founded in 2006 at the European Bach Festival, Ensemble Pygmalion is a combination of choir and orchestra - all young performers with experience of authentic instruments and period-informed performance. Its repertoire concentrates primarily on Johann Sebastian Bach and Jean-Philippe Rameau.
There are many, many good things about Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort and Players' Bach performances – their luminous colors, complete clarity, utter lucidity, and structural integrity – that there is an uneasy feeling in criticizing them for their occasional flaws. When Parrott's Bach is good, it is as great as any that has been recorded in the past 20 years. It's as great as Leonhardt's, Koopman's, or Herreweghe's, and far better than Gardiner's, Harnoncourt's, or Rilling's. And Parrott's Bach is so great in the great pieces – so great in the overwhelming dramatic intensity of the close of his Saint John Passion and so great in the mystery, agony, and ecstasy of the central choral triptych in his Mass in B minor – that his performances seem very, very great indeed.(James Leonard)