fri 19/12/2014

Classical CDs Weekly: Bach, Berlioz, Michala Petri | Classical music reviews, news & interviews

Classical CDs Weekly: Bach, Berlioz, Michala Petri

Funereal Bach, Byronic Berlioz and a Danish fairytale for choir and recorder

Recorder virtuoso Michala Petri teams up with a fearless Danish choirSuste Bonnen

 

Bach: Trauer-Music: Music to Mourn Prince Leopold Taverner Consort and Players/Parrott (Avie)

Prince Leopold was Bach’s patron in the small town of Cöthen, where the young composer arrived to take up the post of Capellmeister in 1717. Leopold was a cultured and genial employer, who, according to Bach, “both knew and loved music”. And though the composer only stayed until 1723, his Cöthen years were creatively productive. Much of Bach’s music from this period has been sadly lost, including the sequence of pieces written in 1728 to mourn Leopold’s sudden death at the age of 34. A libretto, by Bach’s colleague Christian Henrici, survives. This has enabled academics convincingly to argue the case for a reconstruction, using movements from the St Matthew Passion and the recently completed Trauer-Ode for the Electress of Saxony. Bach often recycled his own works, and it’s possible that the suddenness of the funeral commission prompted such a practical solution.

The booklet reveals where individual arias and choruses have come from, and the finishing touches are provided by conductor Andrew Parrott’s newly composed recitatives. The use of one voice per part never sounds anaemic and the singers’ crystalline clarity is a joy to the ears – little surprise when you reflect that Parrott recorded one of the best small-scale versions of the B Minor Mass in the 1980s. What’s most important is that the work sounds like a real, finished work, not a speculative completion. It’s beautifully recorded with good notes.

Berlioz: Harold en Italie, Les Nuits d’été Antoine Tamesit, Anne Sofie von Otter, Les Musiciens du Louvre/Minkowski (Naïve)

Part symphony, part extended viola concerto, Berlioz’s Byron-inspired Harold en Italie appears here on period instruments. The work was commissioned by Paganini, who was initially unimpressed by a solo part which he considered insufficiently flashy and contained too many bars rest. And perhaps he was on to something; the viola line is marvellously eloquent in the opening movement but feels more of a bystander in the subsequent ones. Best to treat the viola solo as if it’s an extended vocal line, and this performance enables Antoine Tamestit’s every inflection to be felt over the startingly translucent sonorities of Marc Minkowski’s Musiciens du Louvre. Berlioz’s flair as an orchestrator gains so much from using period instruments. This disc sounds stunning – particularly the agile brass playing, with superb cornets and narrow-bore trombones, tempered by Berlioz’s ear-piercing writing for high winds. Sample the Orgie de Brigands, complete with hyperactive cymbal crashes.

The song cycle Les nuits d’été still sounds fresh and contemporary, Gautier’s texts set by a typically responsive Berlioz with unerring sensitivity. Villanelle’s chord changes seem to anticipate Prokofiev. Anne Sofie von Otter’s voice never feels strained over such a carefully balanced accompaniment, the halting opening of Absence providing a good example. These are the most enjoyable versions of both works I’ve heard in years, and the CD includes a brief aria from La Damnation de Faust featuring an extended viola solo. Superb.

Watch Minkowski conduct Berlioz

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