J.S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, or St. John Passion, BWV 245 – one of just two surviving Bach Passion works out of an original four or five – is, simply put, a headache for editors and performers wishing to recreate the authentic, stamped-and-approved original work. There is no such beast: the work was performed at least four times during Bach's lifetime, and for each new presentation he overhauled the music, adding numbers, deleting numbers, changing numbers, so that today we really have four different St. John Passions through which to pick and choose our way. Happily enough, however, Bach misses the mark in not a single one of those numbers, and the director can hardly go wrong selecting from such a wealth of fine material. The St. John Passion was first heard on April 7, 1724 (Good Friday), and then reproduced for Leipzig churchgoers in 1725, sometime in the early 1730s (perhaps 1732), and then again in 1749. Perhaps in part because of its sometimes bewildering compositional history and the fact that its texts were not really conceived as a single entity (Bach seems to have arranged the texts himself from a number of disparate sources, and sometimes his efforts – which seem to have been hasty ones – are not altogether graceful), the St. John Passion has never been a sweepingly popular work like the St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244. But it is a monumental work that must have made quite an impression indeed at its first performance, early on in Bach's tenure as Cantor of Leipzig.
Dutch-born composer Johannes Schenck is another in a long line of Baroque composers whose works are only now being discovered and given their first modern performances. Thanks to the intrepid investigative work of harpsichordist Pieter Dirksen – a member of the ensemble La Suave Melodia heard here – a set of 12 trio sonatas of Schenck's Opus 3 that were thought to be lost have been unearthed.
US composer and musician Johannes Luley is probably best known as the driving force of US band Moth Vellum. Five years after the release of Moth Vellum's highly acclaimed debut, Johannes is unleashing a solo album of stunning beauty and complexity. "Tales From Sheepfather's Grove" is an epic work that is bound to take the prog community by storm. Johannes replaced the drum kit with a vast array of hand percussion instruments, giving the album a very primeval feel. These tribal grooves represent the foundation for a dense, cinematic sound scape comprised of acoustic guitar, mandolin, ukulele, moog synth and lush vocal arrangements. The occasional electric guitar is the icing on the cake. "Tales From Sheepfather's Grove" features elements of progressive rock, classical, ambient, world and folk, all combined into a unique sound…
Bregenzs Tales of Hoffmann is different from everything you saw before. The New York Times praised the thoughtfulness and creativity of Stefan Herheims new production, devised by the director as a search for ones own self in a sparkling drag show. A shining-toned (NYT) Hoffmann is embodied by tenor Daniel Johansson in the title role. He is supported by a fantastic cast: Rachel Frenkel is positively ideal as Muse and Niklausse (Kurier), Kerstin Avemo as Olympia is endowed with brilliant, cheekily extemporized coloraturas (Neue Zürcher Zeitung), Michael Volle sings the parts of Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle and Dappertutto, the works four villains, with warmth and intensity (NYT) and Mandy Fredrich is a finelyphrased Antonia (Kurier).
The symphonies of Georges Onslow (1784-1853), rather than following the path blazed by countryman Hector Berlioz, instead adopt the German romantic style epitomized by Schumann and Mendelssohn. For example, the high-spirited Symphony No. 2, a smart and finely crafted work continuously self-propelled by busy string writing, presents a very Schumannesque profile (explicitly so in the scherzo), while the orchestration, with its bucolic woodwind writing, owes much to Mendelssohn. Symphony No. 4 immediately announces its weightier countenance with a powerfully portentous introduction reminiscent of Schubert. Onslow enlivens both the first movement and finale with skillful pacing and an unerring sense of dramatic timing, but it's the spiritually elevated adagio–the emotional center of the work–that remains most in the memory.