Kagel's conundrum is this: Saint Bach is either a unique musical phenomenon, perhaps the only instance of such divinely made (not just inspired) music, thus rendering him incomparable and even incommensurable to all other composers, or Bach's saintliness is a possibility that any composer might attain and thus "Saint Bach" is a representation of "the composer" him/herself in his/her fullest attainment. If this is the case, what other composers might Kagel also be a saint? Himself? As I said, Kagel confronts us with the most challenging epistemological conundrum any recent composer to my knowledge has laid down. And I suspect attentive listeners will be wrestling with his conundrum for generations to come, either infuriated by its seeming audacity, or humbled by its remarkable devotion. In any case, some of those infuriated and humbled listeners will return to Kagel's music with a culminating sense of marvel at its emotion and elegant design that will seem at times to be Bach's music itself wearing an astonishingly contemporary garb.
Anne Sofie Von Otter, Hans-Peter Blochwitz, Roland Hermann, Peter Oggisch, Gerd Zacher, Stuttgart Sudfunkchor, Limburger Cathedral Boys Choir, Hamburg Radio Chorus, Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, Mauricio Kage / Conductor
It has haunted René Jacobs since childhood: first as a boy soprano in Ghent, then as a countertenor, he has constantly frequented the supreme masterpiece that is the 'St Matthew Passion'. Jacobs uses the layout of the Good Friday Vesper service from Bach's time, with choirs front and back, rather than side-by-side. He also gives us extra soloists to complete the bi-choral effect. For Bach, the two halves were 28 metres apart. At that distance, coordination difficulties begin to appear between the speed of light, and the speed of sound, and we cannot determine how Bach dealt with this problem. However the wonders of SACD multichannel surround sound can at last give an impression of what Bach intended for St Thomas’ Church in Leipzig.
Fifteen years after his recording of Bach’s three Sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord (on hm, with Rinaldo Alessandrini), Paolo Pandolfo returns to this repertoire a new approach: the fruit of active and concentrated years of consideration, study and research into the inherent possibilities of his instrument. Given the basic differing natures of these two instruments, the performance of these works very often turns – in Pandolfo’s words – into a “musical argument”, rather than what is demanded by the music’s essential nature: a “musical conversation” in which the score achieves “transparency and eloquence”.
The appetite for evolving performance practices in Bach’s St Matthew Passion appears undiminished as we have gradually shifted, over the generations, from larger to smaller ensembles and also towards a greater dramatic understanding of the implications of Bach’s ambitious ‘stereophonic’ double choir and orchestra choreography.
Performances of Bach's St. John Passion, BWV 245, with these forces or close to them have become an annual Eastertime tradition in London, and this recording is guaranteed an appreciative audience. Certain details relate specifically to this tradition: several chorales are sung unaccompanied, but an accompanied version is included at the end for those who reject the dramatization.
Deus Passus is one quarter of the Passion Project 2000, which celebrated not only the turning of the millennium but also commemorated the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death. German conductor Helmuth Rilling honored this occasion by commissioning Passions from four disparate composers: Wolfgang Rihm, Tan Dun, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Osvaldo Golijov. Deus Passus is a setting of the Passion according to St. Luke, and it is a marvel of a piece for many reasons. For a full hour and a half, with music that is mostly slow and largely atonal (in the sense that Berg’s music is atonal), the twisting, aching, unpredictable harmonies are totally captivating. Rihm chooses a straightforward setting, a simple, dramatic telling of the story, and it is in his capacity for restraint that the true brilliance of the piece lies. He uses the chorus sparingly, mostly for dramatic purposes, having it portray the angry rabble bent on crucifying Jesus (as it often does in Bach’s passions).