Philippe Pierlot and the Ricercar Consort's 2006 recording of Bach's Magnificat brings back the glory days of historically informed performances, those halcyon days in the 1980s when musicians, empowered by scholarship and energized by virtuosity, were recording the Baroque repertoire with the zeal of the newly converted. Though Pierlot and his musicians are of a younger generation, they bring a missionary fervor to the music, a program of Bach's Magnificat, BWV 243, and Missa Brevis, BWV 235, interspersed with two well-chosen organ works, the Fuga sopra il Magnificat, BWV 733, and the Präludium und Fuga, BWV 541. Pierlot's textures are clean, his rhythms buoyant, his colors bright, and tempos brisk, but not rushed in the fast movements, and contemplative but not moribund in the slow movements.
The young pianist who blew everyone away at the GRAMMYs recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations as label debut. The Korean-born, US-trained pianist known simply as Ji is very much a classical musician for the 21st century. Having won the New York Philharmonic’s Young Artists Competition at the age of just 10, he went on to study at the prestigious Juilliard School. Described by the Chicago Tribune as “a gifted, sensitive young pianist who is clearly going places,” he has chosen Bach’s sublime Goldberg Variations for his debut on Warner Classics. “Classical music is never going away,” he says, “We live in very modern world, and it’s our job to live in the moment, but it’s also our job to respect and preserve tradition.”
These works both received their first performances in Leipzig - the Magnificat in 1723 and Cantata 82 in 1727. It was in 1723 that Bach had taken up thepost of Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, having previously been Kapellmeisterto Prince Leopold in Cothen. The Magnificat was originally heard ina version in E flat major at Christmas Vespers when movements with seasonaltexts were inserted; the version included on this disc was rendered by Bach someyears later, returning to the ordinary Magnificat text in order to makethe work performable all year round. Bach's approach to the evening canticle ischaracteristically large-scale. There is no use of recitative, owing perhaps tothe poetic nature of the text: the verses have little natural hierarchy and itis appropriate that they should all be afforded extended settings. The scoringis unusually rich and includes three trumpets, two flutes, two oboes, strings,continuo, and timpani - one of the largest ensembles to be assembled at theThomaskirche in Bach's time. Bach takes a literal view of the text in which, forinstance, the full five-part choir is used to demonstrate Omnes generationes ("All generations") with soloists used for the more reflective movements. Ina typically Bachian gesture the opening material returns for Sicut erat inprincipio ("As it was in the beginning").
Although J.S. Bach's orchestral music has been transcribed for guitar ensemble before, notably selected Brandenburg Concertos by the De Falla Trio and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, this is the first recording of the four suites for orchestra that I have heard in a setting of this type; it is not a source of material that readily springs to mind for such treatment and certainly purists would decry such practices.