Early Music America Fall 2012 - (Page 20)

recordingreviews Edited by Tom Moore Johann Sebastian Bach The Six French Suites, BWV 812-817; Little Preludes, BWV 924-943 Peter Watchorn, harpsichord Musica Omnia MO0402 (3 CDs) www.musicaomnia.org Australian harpsichordist Peter Watchorn has already demonstrated his skill and musicality in other recordings of J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and Dr. John Bull. A scholar and harpsichord builder as well as a performer, he brings all his knowledge to informed and insightful performance, even writing his own completion of the fragmentary E Minor Prelude (BWV 932) from the Klavierbüchlein für Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. The French Suites and the Little Preludes were composed as pedagogical pieces for Bach’s eldest sons; accordingly, Watchorn’s structural approach to performance informs as much as it charms. At no point, however, does the “lesson” become pedantic: quite the opposite. There is an appropriately French delight and restraint in the ornamentation, which, in combination with Bach’s extraordinary harmonic surety, makes a complete musical performance. Among the plethora of excellent harpsichordists currently active, it is pleasant to hear a performer who demonstrates no need to prove his talent. There is a relaxed and unaffected quality to Watchorn’s playing and an ease in his ornamentation. Although not invisible, his performance remains subordinate to the music. The program notes are in the form of an imaginary interview with the composer, which (despite my initial skepticism) was both insightful and enjoyable to read. This three-disc set belongs in any good music library archive and is highly welcome in any collection. —Lance Hulme Part 2 are extremely effective, especially the rising chromatic lines that bounce from voice to voice, seeming to suck the air out of the room. Whether this trade-off reflects Bach’s intention remains, to me, an open question. The virtuosity displayed by all performers is truly impressive, showing a level of professionalism and musicality of which Bach could only dream. Huggett’s direction is pristine and very musical, and all the soloists are delightful with full, yet well-controlled, declamation. The chorus is consistently strong, and its dramatic role in the bass aria “Mein teurer Heiland, laß dich fragen” is particularly poignant—a pale shadow haunting the soloist. The forces are about half the usual complement, but there is still a massiveness to the engineered sound that can seem incongruous with Huggett’s intention. —Lance Hulme songs, then La Nef has simply and pleasantly followed this tradition. Over two decades, this ensemble has grown comfortable playing with and off of each other; they finish each other’s thoughts with the ease of old friends. The real star of this disc, though, is Michael Slattery; his voice is like warm honey on a summer day. Timbrally, he and La Nef were made for one another. Slattery sings with the intimacy and charm of a favored Elizabethan courtier, without ever being smarmy; his honesty and wistfulness in the plaintive songs are especially endearing. He is absolutely believable, and he imbues these pieces with a striking sense of relevance and immediacy. The incorporation of the Indian shruti box as a drone against which Slattery can discant is a perfect addition to this recording, hearkening to its previous use by Irish musicians such as Nóirín Ní Riain. Slattery explains in the liner notes that the shruti box plays a drone similar to bagpipes, while blending with the timbre of his own voice. I’m curious, though, about the use of a nonWestern instrument that has its own history of performance practice. While shruti boxes are becoming more and more popular in U.K. traditions, I wonder what reaction this use inspires in Indian musicians. I’m curious whether this is an accepted inter-cultural exchange, or whether it could inadvertently cause offense. Standout selections are “Sleep Wayward Thoughts” (which I listened to on repeat rather frequently), “Say, Love, If Ever Thou Didst Find,” and the Dowland standard “Come Again, Sweet Love,” which starts slowly and melancholically but quickly accelerates to a rollicking finish, at the end of which I half expected to hear the cheers and whistles of a well-pleased pub audience. Whatever your thoughts are on Dowland’s heritage, there is no denying the musicality, charm, and approachability of this recording. —Karen Cook Johann Sebastian Bach Saint John Passion Portland Baroque Orchestra, Monica Huggett, director Avie AV2236 www.avie-records.com I once heard composer Wolfgang Rihm assess a recording of the St. Matthew Passion as “Bach in the manner of Mahler.” On this recording, I heard Bach with an energy and irrepressible momentum that evokes John Adams’s opera Nixon in China. Portland Baroque Orchestra director Monica Huggett brings to the St. John Passion the extreme gestures and breakneck virtuosity of Baroque opera—a con brio performance that would probably have shocked Bach’s conservative Leipzig employers but that, for a contemporary ear, is a whole lot of fun. (As was done in the Netherlands Bach Society’s 2004 Channel Classics recording, she eliminates flutes from the score, on the premise that they were thought to be absent from the original performance, and assigned their roles to violin and oboe. As string lines, parts in difficult flute keys can be performed at virtuosic speed, adding justification to the radical tempo choices.) What is lost in this emulation of Baroque opera is clarity of contrapuntal texture and compositional nuance, particularly in “Ach, mein Sinn,” where the tenor coloratura is obscured by the dramatic tempo. In contrast, the opening chorales in John Dowland Dowland in Dublin Michael Slattery, tenor; La Nef ATMA Classique ACD22650 www.atmaclassique.com So, was John Dowland Irish? This release from the Québécois mixed ensemble La Nef and American tenor Michael Slattery asks that very question. Dowland (1563-1626) mentions his “countryman,” an Irishman by the name of John Forster, in A Pilgrim’s Solace (1612); given that he was a staunch Catholic and held an honorary degree from Trinity College in Dublin, perhaps he hailed not from England but from Ireland. Though this question may never be answered, the disc is meant to demonstrate that Dowland’s compositions are suited to what La Nef calls a “Celtic” flavor. The term made me cringe in fear of “lute songmeets-Riverdance,” but instead of being overly dramatized or orchestrated, these versions are lilting, teasing, immediately familiar and yet pleasingly different. There are a very few moments when the instrumental introductions to the songs verge on “Celtic Woman” territory (see “Now O Now I Needs Must Part”), but if the practice of Dowland’s day was to extemporize upon favorite Early Music America magazine welcomes news of recent recordings. Please send CDs to be considered for review and pertinent information to Tom Moore, Recording Reviews Editor, 2937 Chapel Hill Rd., Durham, NC 27707; recordings@earlymusic.org. Early Music America cannot guarantee the inclusion of every CD sent for review. All reviews reflect the personal opinions of the reviewer only. Label web sites are supplied with each review to assist readers who are unable to locate discs through Amazon.com, CDBaby.com, ArkivMusic.com, or other outlets. 20 Fall 2012 Early Music America http://www.musicaomnia.org http://www.avie-records.com http://www.atmaclassique.com http://www.Amazon.com http://www.CDBaby.com http://www.ArkivMusic.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Early Music America Fall 2012

Editor’s Note
EMA Competition
Sound Bytes
Musings: Listening Forward
Profile: A Classical Playlist on Your Cable Television
Recording Reviews
Reconstructing Spanish Songs from the Time of Cervantes
Janet See: Traversist on Two Continents
Musical Mosaic Explores “Perspectives of Interspersing Peoples”
Book Reviews
Ad Index
In Conclusion: Conducting Early Music

Early Music America Fall 2012