The sound world of Bach’s last great Mass has changed radically in recent decades; one-to-a-part performance practice is, as conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen puts it, “changing our entire notion of Bach’s acoustic universe”. This bold claim is amply proven in an account of dazzling transparency, dance-like rhythms and utter clarity. Sometimes the balance seems not quite right, for example when organ continuo dominates, but some superb ensemble numbers pit voices against virtuosic instruments so each seems to outdo the other in joyous exuberance. The five soloists complement each other well, and the addition of just five extra singers is all that is needed to explode Bach’s universal vision into life.
After decades during which the unaccompanied violin sonatas and partitas of Bach stood alone, regarded by all but specialists as rather freakish musical occurrences, recent years have seen a growth of interest in the virtuoso violin repertory of the Baroque. Composers like Biber, Pisendel, and Tartini have all shown up with increasing frequency on concert programs and recordings.
It's hard to believe this CD was done with only a violin, viola da gama and harpsichord. This is polyphonic music at its finest. It does tribute to Buxtehude, who preceded Bach. The ensemble is perfect - the instruments complement each other. When they go from slow to fast, it is remarkable to hear the contrast. These are expert musicians with a complete mastery of their instruments. They use loud-soft as easily as any masters of the Baroque. The result is joyous, lively and entertaining.
Lars Ulrik Mortensen is best known as a harpsichordist active largely in Baroque solo and chamber music repertory. But his career is quite multifaceted: he has regularly conducted both instrumental and operatic works and has taught harpsichord and historic performance practices at the Hochschule fur Musik in Munich. He has often appeared in concert as accompanist to singer Emma Kirkby and has regularly partnered violinist John Holloway and cellist Jaap ter Linden.
Dietrich Buxtehude is probably most familiar to modern classical music audiences as the man who inspired the young Johann Sebastian Bach to make a lengthy pilgrimage to Lubeck, Buxtehude's place of employment and residence for most of his life, just to hear Buxtehude play the organ. But Buxtehude was a major figure among German Baroque composers in his own right.
This is a really great five-CD set. You get all of Bach's concertos except the Brandenburgs - which is a shame because Pinnock's Brandenburgs are terrific. Nonetheless, this remains an absolutely cracking collection of some of Bach's most enjoyable music in excellent performances. In the Harpsichord Concertos Pinnock is himself the soloist and shows why he is such a very well-liked and highly regarded musician. The music springs to life under his fingers (and under his direction) and many of these performances set new and enduring standards when first released in the early 1980s. They have informed much subsequent Bach playing and have worn extremely well themselves, sounding as fresh and involving as they did nearly 30 years ago. He is joined by other fine harpsichordists in the concerti for two, three and four harpsichords, (Kenneth Gilbert, Nicholas Kraemer and Lars Ulrich Mortensen) and the Concerto for Four Harpsichords in particular is an absolute joy.
A major contribution to the Handel Year: countertenor star Andreas Scholl returns to the Decca label in a new high definition film of Handels comedy Partenope, presented in Francisco Negrins stylish with a modern-dress staging from the Royal Danish Opera. Scholl gives an outstanding performance, with several contrasting arias that collectively display his unique purity of tone, his virtuosic technique and his sensuous lyricism. Concerto Copenhagen and conductor Lars Ulrik Mortensen are unsung heroes of period-instrument performance, and they make a wonderfully spirited and polished contribution to the production.