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CLASSICAL  October 2006

CLASSICAL October 2006

Subject:

Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage - Vol. 26

From:

Donald Satz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 11 Oct 2006 03:41:51 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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   Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
       The Cantatas

Disc 1 (For Whit Sunday):
"Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten!", BWV 172 [18:31]
"Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten I", BWV 59 [11:38]
"Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten II", BWV 74 [20:34]
"O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe", BWV 34 [16:45]
Disc 2 (For Whit Monday):
"Erhohtes Fleisch und Blut", BWV 173 [12:58]
"Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt", BWV 68 [13:45]
"Ich liebe den Hochsten von ganzem Gemute", BWV 174 [21:01]

Lisa Larsson (soprano)
Nathalie Stutzmann (alto)
Derek Lee Ragin (alto) (Disc 1)
Christoph Genz (tenor)
Panajotis Iconomou (bass)
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
Recorded Holy Trinity, Long Melford, 11-12 June 2000
Released July 2006
Soli Deo Gloria SDG 121 [2cds - 69:42 + 47:58]

Comparisons: Suzuki/BIS, Koopman/Challenge Classics

John Eliot Gardiner's detractors have been voicing the same reservations
for almost 20 years now - he's too fast and superficial with insufficient
reverence to God.  The argument concerning tempo might have been valid
many years ago when Gardiner took tempos faster than any other Bach
conductor, but it is now moot as newer Bach conductors such as Paul
McCreesh easily speed by Gardiner.  Concerning insufficient reverence
to God, I think it's fair to say that Gardiner prefers to celebrate God
and that he does an outstanding job of it.  Does Gardiner tend to be
superficial?  Yes, this can happen now and then in Bach's most emotionally
wrenching pieces of music.

What Gardiner does offer more than any other Bach conductor are the
most exuberant and celebratory readings on disc with superior choral
work, perfect balance among musical lines and the most crisp and well
defined brass playing I've ever heard.  So often, the brass in baroque
recordings are either far louder than all other instruments combined
or are blended into the orchestral fabric.  But Gardiner consistently
insures that they inhabit their own space without overwhelming the musical
proceedings.  I've been listening to his Bach recordings for many years,
and they have been among the treasures of my music library.

The Gardiner and Suzuki Bach Cantata cycles are the two that I have
been concentrating on most during the past few years.  Although both
are exceptional, there are a few differences in conception.  Gardiner
is the more exuberant director and offers quicker tempos, greater
celebration, stronger punctuation, and a more crisp projection of brass
instruments.  Suzuki's approach is more measured with lyricism that can
melt one's heart and greater reverence than is common from Gardiner.

BWV 172 well highlights the differences between Gardiner and Suzuki.
In the rousing opening chorus, Gardiner is faster and more rhythmically
buoyant than Suzuki.  However, Suzuki has the edge in the beautiful
soprano and alto duet "Komm, lass mich nicht langer warten".  He has a
deeper feeling for this music than Gardiner, and soprano Ingrid Schmithusen
and alto Yoshikazu Mera make a heavenly team.  Gardiner's soprano and
alto are very alluring, but both sound like they are singing from about
the same spot in the soundstage.  This makes no sense to me, given that
the effectiveness of the dialogue is significantly reduced through this
piggy-backing approach.  Overall, both versions of BWV 172 are excellent,
but you must hear the Suzuki duet to gain a slice of heaven.

For BWV 59, let's invite Ton Koopman into the house.  Started on Erato
and now close to conclusion on the Challenge label, Koopman has his own
Bach cycle that has reaped much praise from critics and Bach enthusiasts.
BWV 59 is about love, joy, and the special bonding of the human soul
with God: it's a rather short work having four movements with solo vocal
roles for only the soprano and bass.  Gardiner and company do a splendid
job of conveying the necessary emotional content, and both Larsson and
Iconomou display fine expression and tonal appeal.  However, again a
reservation crops up in the form of the duet.  In this case, it's the
opening movement of the work and a very exhilarating piece.  This time
there's no piggy-backing, but there is a lack of connection between
Larsson and Iconomou; much of the time in the duet it seems that neither
is aware that the other exists.  For Koopman, Ruth Ziesak and Klaus
Merten do it right.  Although quite distinct from one another, there is
also a transcendent blending of the two instruments.  Frankly, this
performance of the duet beats the Gardiner by a country mile.

Well, I could continue with the comparison game, but it wouldn't truly
reflect my opinion of this Gardiner set.  Although comparisons made of
segments of a recording have their virtues, the process has the potential
of overlooking the sweep and conception of the conductor's vision.  In
this case, it is the celebratory and life affirming characteristics of
Bach's music that can only be fully realized when listening to the entire
recording at one sitting.  Whether you consider Gardiner to be celebrating
God or humanity, the triumphant nature of his interpretations is so
strong that I feel a total exhilaration as well as contentment with the
world after listening to the two discs.

I can't say that Gardiner's vocal soloists display a tonal beauty second
to none, but each is highly expressive with Lisa Larsson leading the
charge of gorgeous phrasing.  As usual, the Monteverdi Choir's singing
displays its unique and compelling blend of power, rapt expression, and
detailing of musical lines.  As for Gardiner's brass contributions, they
are stellar for crisp projection and perfect balance.  The soundstage
is ideal for the CD medium, but it can't match the expansiveness encountered
by the many Suzuki SACD recordings.

Don's Conclusions: Volume 26 of the Gardiner Bach Cantata Pilgrimage
continues the excellence offered by the previous issues in the series
(vols.  1, 8, 10, 14, 19, 21, 24).  In addition, the two newest volumes
have just been released.  These are all at top-dollar but worth every
penny.  Then we have two great cycles in progress from Suzuki and Koopman
as well as occasional entries from Herreweghe on Harmonia Mundi.  Last,
but not least, is a new cycle of the cantatas directed by Sigiswald
Kuijken on Accent; I have not heard any of the three first recordings,
but Kuijken is routinely an excellent guide for baroque works.  All in
all, we live in a golden age of recordings of Bach's sacred choral music.
Enjoy!

Don Satz
[log in to unmask]

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