As the mysterious opening bars of the Kyrie gradually emerge into the light, we know that this recording of Mozart’s glorious Great Mass in C minor is a special one: the tempi perfect, the unfolding drama of the choral writing so carefully judged, and, above it all, the crystalline beauty of soloist Carolyn Sampson’s soprano, floating like a ministering angel. Masaaki Suzuki’s meticulous attention to detail, so rewarding in his remarkable Bach recordings, shines throughout this disc, the playing alert, the choir responsive, the soloists thrilling. And there is the bonus of an exhilarating Exsultate, Jubilate with Sampson on top form.
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, a collection of love songs grew up. Under the title of the “Most beautiful of songs”, they found a home in the Old Testament-it was Martin Luther who first gave them the name of “Song of songs”-and since that time they have inspired and fascinated a vast number of theologians, mystics, philosophers, poets, painters, and, last but not least, composers. Particularly during the Baroque period, these poetic, sensual, vividly descriptive texts were set over and over again to music, and they inspired librettists to expand on the original texts.
Les Noces is a screaming, shrieking, flat-out masterpiece. Leonard Bernstein himself has referred to it as Stravinsky's greatest work, and listening to this incendiary performance, it's awfully hard to disagree. Scored for voices, four pianos, and percussion, the work provided the inspiration for the entire career of Orff (of Carmina Burana fame), but it's so much better as sheer music than anything Orff wrote. And what a cast! The pianists for this performance include Martha Argerich, Krystian Zimerman, Cyprien Katsaris, and Homero Francesch, four certified virtuoso performers, while the singers of the English Bach Festival Chorus really cover themselves with glory in both works. A stunner.
GRAMOPHONE AWARD WINNER 2015 - BAROQUE INSTRUMENTAL RECORDING OF THE YEAR. This recording is the first time that the five-stringed Amati has been used to record the 6th suite and it is the only original five-string cello in existence in the UK and unique in being the only one by this maker. The Cello Suites are performed on two gut-string cellos Suite Nos. 1-5 on a Francesco Ruggieri from 1660 and Suite No. 6 the five-stringed Cremona cello by A. & H. Amati from c.1600, both tuned to Baroque pitch. Bachs cello suites are renowned as the pinnacle of the instruments repertoire and are performed here in period performances by the internationally acclaimed cellist, David Watkin. David Watkin has been performing Bachs Cello Suites in concert for 35 years, and Bachs unaccompanied cello repertoire has taken him all over Europe, from the Palace of Frederick the Great at Potsdam to the Prague Spring Festival, and, as part of Sir John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage, included performances sitting by the font in which Bach was baptised.
Even though Angela Hewitt's repertoire is quite extensive and diverse, encompassing the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern eras, her true specialty is the music of J.S. Bach, which she has recorded almost exclusively for Hyperion since the 1980s. With this recording of The Art of Fugue, Hewitt completes her long-running series of piano renditions of the solo keyboard works, and while not everyone is convinced that Bach composed this study of fugal techniques for the keyboard, Hewitt's performance is credible and satisfying. She controls the often unwieldy counterpoint by regarding the lines as if they were vocal parts, and her phrases are shaped by natural breathing points, as well as the different emotional qualities she brings to each fugue and canon. The Art of Fugue can be daunting for both performer and listener because its persistent tonality of D minor and monothematic material can be quite tedious in the wrong hands.