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.
Most of us come to the Saint John Passion knowing the Saint Matthew Passion first. The bigger and more elaborate Saint Matthew, which came along three, or possibly five years later (there is controversy about the date), has tended to cast a shadow in which the earlier work is swallowed up, and this has been so ever since Mendelssohn's Saint Matthew performance in 1829 marked the beginning of the public rediscovery of J.S. Bach. (The professionals had never forgotten.) But if the Saint John is smaller in scale than the Saint Matthew, it is hardly the lesser work in quality, though it would of course be silly to claim that the master of the Saint Matthew Passion had not learned from the experience of setting Saint John. But the most interesting differences between these two towering attestations of faith are differences in intention. Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 22-23, and John 18-19, and you get four tellings of the last days in the life of Jesus that differ in tone, emphasis, and detail…
Karl Richter’s recordings of Bach’s orchestral and sacred music influenced an entire generation of musicians and listeners, presenting the conductor’s unique sound and style. When Richter recorded Bach’s works, he freed them from a ponderous tradition that had mired the music in romantic sounds and idiom. Richter lightened Bach’s music, and, with an orchestra of outstanding musicians, helped bring it toward the more modern interpretations that listeners have become familiar with today. This is still a bit far from the historically-informed performances that are pretty much the norm, but there is a unity and natural originality that comes through the music in these recordings.
'Testament' is Rachel Barton Pine's very personal homage to the music of J. S. Bach, on which she performs the composer's complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin in the acoustic of her hometown St. Pauls Church in Chicago, where she first heard and fell in love with Bach's music.
The recipient of the 2012 City of Leipzig Bach Medal, Masaaki Suzuki has earned an enviable reputation as an interpreter of the music of J. S. Bach as a reviewer in Intl Record Guide has put it: 'With Suzuki you can hear Bach's heart beat'. To a wide audience he is known as the director of Bach Collegium Japan, and the moving force behind the ensemble's acclaimed recordings of Bach's complete sacred cantatas. Perhaps less well known is that he began his career at the age of 12! playing the organ at church services in Kobe, where he was born. Suzuki has remained true to the organ throughout his life, and for BIS he has previously recorded Bach's German Organ Mass, as well as programs of Buxtehude and Sweelinck. He here appears on a disc combining some of Bach's best-loved works for the instrument, including the D minor Toccata and Fugue, the Partitas on O Gott, du frommer Gott, BWV 767, the Canonic Variations, BWV769, and the celebrated Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV548.