Presto News - 11th November 2013
Bach Cantatas from Masaaki Suzuki
Eighteen years ago, in 1995, Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan (BCJ) began a project which would put them firmly on the world map as one of the leading exponents of Bach’s music in modern times. With the release of Volume 55 their series of the composer’s complete church cantatas – recorded in chronological order – reaches its conclusion. Masaaki was in London last week, and I took the opportunity to meet with him to congratulate him on that monumental achievement, and also to quiz him a little on some of the challenges and decisions he had faced in the process.
The first challenge I asked him about was the fact that before he came along, Japan was not at all renowned as a place for Baroque music. He formed the BCJ in 1990 and they began their Bach Cantata series of concerts in 1992, and while he himself initially wondered who would come to their performances he was pleased (and perhaps slightly surprised) to discover that there was already very much an existing audience of enthusiastic Bach lovers in Japan. Over the years that audience has grown further, and even for a performance of three pretty unknown cantatas they now always get an audience of over a thousand people at their concerts in Tokyo.
I actually think this lack of a performing tradition locally has probably helped them, as one of the key attributes of this series is the remarkable freshness. It has been prevalent throughout the cycle and combined with the small choir (typically 12 voices, I think) and small period-instrument orchestra it really is an ideal combination. Masaaki and his performers seem to live and breathe this music and there is so much joy and immediacy in their music-making.
We talked a little about soloists (largely although by no means exclusively non-Japanese) and the choir (women rather than boys as Bach would have had). Both decisions were as suspected based on his quest for the best possible artistic results. Although he was far too modest to even agree with me, I think there is a real hope that what he has started will lead to a lasting legacy of Baroque singers in Japan – but those new generations haven’t yet really emerged. The same can’t be said of the instrumentalists who make up the BCJ, though. They are very much already competing with the best in the world. It is simply outstanding playing, virtually faultless, and threatening on occasion to eclipse the singers, who are equally hard to fault!
Another key element of any series like this is the relationship with the record label. In Swedish label BIS and their owner/founder/producer Robert von Bahr they found the ideal partner, and the recorded sound (especially after moving to SACD from volume 28 onwards) has been rightly praised throughout.
For those who asked about the remainder of the secular cantatas yet to be recorded, the good news is that yes, they are still very much planned. I think Masaaki said there were about 5 or 6 more discs of those to come, and also two discs of the Lutheran Masses, one of which is already in the can and will be released next year. After that? Well, he said he wants to carry on exploring works for choir and orchestra based on the Bible, and that we should look forward to Mozart’s Requiem, C minor Mass, and then Mendelssohn.
As many readers will no doubt already know, BIS are kindly offering (exclusively through us) a free 76 minute download of highlights from this series. You can see full details of that sampler here. It is available until the end of the month.
Then to further mark the conclusion of the series we’re pleased to be able to offer 20% off both CDs and downloads on all 55 volumes. Full details of that offer here.
Or, if you’ve simply read the above, haven’t really heard any of the series before, and just want to buy a CD (which I’m very confident you’ll enjoy hugely) then the link to Volume 55 you’ll find below.
Bach - Cantatas Volume 55
Hana Blažíková, Robin Blaze, Gerd Türk & Peter Kooij, Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki
Chris O'Reilly - firstname.lastname@example.org
11th November 2013
Hindemith: Piano Sonatas
Markus Becker (piano)
In his three piano sonatas, all written in 1936, Hindemith presents himself not as the rebel and revolutionary of the 1920s, but rather as an heir to the contrapuntal skill and keyboard dexterity of Johann Sebastian Bach. Markus Becker has been acclaimed for his persuasive and authoritative recordings of German repertoire of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Sullivan, A: The Beauty Stone
Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano), Toby Spence (tenor), Rebecca Evans (soprano), Alan Opie (baritone), Stephen Gadd (baritone), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rory Macdonald
Sullivan's The Beauty Stone was a surprising flop at its premiere. The audience was expecting something more in the mould of the composer’s comic operas, and was unprepared for a work of such seriousness. Subsequently, Sullivan made dramatic edits to the score, removing some of the work’s most delightful music, but in this new recording all of the omitted music has been restored.
Pergolesi: Stabat Mater, Laudate Pueri & Confitebor
Julia Lezhneva (soprano), Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor), I Barocchisti, Diego Fasolis
Diego Fasolis leads I Barocchisti in this programme of works by Pergolesi: the Stabat Mater and Confitebor tibi domine, which call for two high-voiced soloists, and Laudate pueri. Two voices of celestial beauty and expressive poignancy come together on this recording, as countertenor Philippe Jaroussky is joined by soprano Julia Lezhneva.
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Gerald Finley (Hans Sachs), Marco Jentzsch (Walther von Stolzing), Anna Gabler (Eva), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Beckmesser), Michaela Selinger (Magdalene), Topi Lehtipuu (David), London Philharmonic Orchestra & The Glyndebourne Chorus, Vladimir Jurowski
The new Opera House at Glyndebourne, which opened in 1994, allowed the possibility of staging Wagner operas. On this recording of the 2011 production of Die Meistersinger, Gerald Finley makes his debut as Hans Sachs, his voice nothing short of glorious. With Vladimir Jurowski at the helm, orchestral textures and colours are kept light and alive, resulting in a sound world somewhat different to most other available recordings.
Julian Anderson: Fantasias, The Crazed Moon & The Discovery of Heaven
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, Ryan Wigglesworth (conductors)
Julian Anderson has been the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Composer in Residence since 2010. This is the first album of his works performed by the Orchestra, and includes one world premiere performance and two world premiere recordings.
Stenhammar: String Quartets Volume 2
On this second disc of the Stenhammar Quartet’s survey, two late works frame a world première recording, namely that of the Quartet in F minor which Stenhammar completed in 1897, but withdrew after its first performance in 1898. While describing the quartet’s middle movements as ‘fresh and joyful’, he expressed severe doubts regarding the final movement and for a long time harboured the idea of replacing it, before finally giving up on the work.
Che puro ciel: The Rise of Classical Opera
Bejun Mehta (counter-tenor), Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, René Jacobs
In the preface to Alceste (1767), Christoph Willibald Gluck and his librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi posited a new direction for opera. They spoke of moving beyond Baroque forms, of striving for a new naturalism in opera. Taken from the height of this Reform period, the arias on this disc reveal composers exploring and experimenting as they create the new forms that bring to opera the noble simplicity of the Classical era.
Susan Bullock (Queen Elizabeth I), Toby Spence (Earl of Essex), Patricia Bardon (Countess of Essex), Mark Stone (Lord Mountjoy), Kate Royal (Lady Rich), Chorus & Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Paul Daniel (conductor)
Central to the Royal Opera's Benjamin Britten centenary celebrations was Richard Jones's witty and insightful new production of the operatic pageant written to honour the Coronation, exploring the late life, love and death of Queen Elizabeth I. With powerfully characterised performances by Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth and Toby Spence as the dashing and treacherous Earl of Essex, Gloriana is revealed as at once a celebration and a tragedy.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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