For those who already appreciate Rachel Podger's unique brand of magic I'll just say that this return to recorded Bach is lovely and all that one could hope for. All that one looks for is here, and there is more. For those who are not familiar with Rachel Podger, she is a unique voice among violinists. She has absorbed the principles of late Baroque performance practice and made them a part of herself, so that the articulation and inflection of that rhetorical approach to music flows from her as a natural idiom of expression.
None of these reconstructions are included in Teldec’s Bach 2000, although the better-known ‘originals’ obviously are. The real newcomer is the Sinfonia, BWV1045 (5'34'') ‘to an unknown cantata’ which – as befits a BWV number that immediately precedes the First Brandenburg Concerto – is rumbustious, festive and thematically likeable. Time and again I could sense allusions to other Bach instrumental pieces, though the soloist’s ceaseless arpeggiating is sometimes a distraction. We’re told it’s authentic (the manuscript source suggests a violin concerto in the making) but something about its harmonic language doesn’t quite ring true, though that reaction might well be due to lack of familiarity.
No doubt many of you are wondering whether I should be recording Bach’s complete sonatas and partitas at the age of only 21. Perhaps I should have waited a bit longer? Well, patience has seldom been my strong point, and after all I have already waited a number of years for an opportunity to record these works. During the first six years of study with my teacher Ana Chumachenco, I studied the sonatas and partitas thoroughly, and first performed both cycles in their entirety in the Bach year 2000, during the course of two evenings at the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival.
Since the additional movements of the Roman Catholic Mass (Sanctus, Agnus Dei, and Credo) that appear in his B minor Mass were excluded, Bach's four missa breves (short masses) are essentially two-movement Lutheran works. Naturally, Bach being Bach, he subdivided the expansive Gloria into five shorter movements; set the texts as arias, duets, and choruses; and used an orchestra ensemble including strings, flutes, oboes, trumpets, and organ as a powerful and colorful accompaniment. But at the heart of all four works is the austere faith of Martin Luther, and the German reformer's strength, severity, and occasional sentimentality is at the spiritual core of Bach's sacred music.
The Gemini Series features an impressive roster of singers, conductors, soloists, and ensembles of international renown, all from the incomparable EMI Classics stable. EMI's rich legacy of recording expertise comes to the fore in performances from the 1960s to the 1990s. Gemini titles are predominantly collections of single composers and fantastic value with well over an hour of music on each CD, making them the ideal place to start or develop a collection of classical music. Each 2-CD set contains over two hours of music for a fantastically low price. Attractively designed and packaged in space-saving brilliant boxes, each set includes three-language booklets with detailed notes on the music.
Maria João Pires “shapes and colours every phrase, and with immaculate taste, and she makes sure the phrases end as eloquently as they begin,” wrote Gramophone in 1974. “She conveys not just the details but the relevance of every note to the whole … Best of all, she communicates everything she has discovered about the music, and it is worth having.” This Portuguese pupil of Wilhelm Kempff, Pires was one of the artists who defined the Erato label in the 1970s and 1980s. This 5-CD box gathers together the recordings she made over the period from 1976 to 1985 and it reflects the consistent focus of her repertoire, with its special emphasis on Austro-German composers of the Classical and early-Romantic periods. Embracing solo works, piano duets and concertos, it contains works by Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, but also by Bach and Chopin.
Another superlative Alpha production! Really! From the beautiful multiple Gainsborough reproductions through the astute notes and the vivid sound to the stunning performances, this really is another superlative Alpha product. Violinist Pablo Valetti and harpsichordist Céline Frisch are fluent and soulful players with an empathetic sense of ensemble. In these Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord, Valetti and Frisch's warm tone, supple tempos, and expressive lines make Bach's music sound as virtuosic as ever, but more lyrical than usual. Alpha's recording is close and detailed and real, capturing the sound of the air in the room. The notes are lively and learned and entertaining. The notes on the Gainsborough on the cover are even better and even the tiny little reproductions somehow contrive to catch the effervescent beauty of his light and shape and color and texture. While the classic recordings of the Sonatas remain inviolate, Valetti and Frisch should be heard by anyone who loves recorded art.