Friday, September 30, 2011

Harnoncourt and Leonhardt conduct Bach’s Osterkantaten

There are no doubts Johann Sebastian Bach was greatest composer of European music ever known. Building his output almost exclusively on demand, he made synthesis of all genres and techniques used before. Only one form of music was beyond his reach. He never received an order for dramma per musica. And in 17th and early 18th century works, especially operas were composed only on request. Nevertheless Bach shifted his operatic ambitions into his oratorios and cantata works, carrying dramatic action with pure musical agents. Using only church music resources he created highly legible and clear language based on musical rhetorical means and measures strengthening the emotional expression.
Since his music was rediscovered in romantic era, Johann Sebastian Bach for more than a century was the composer who was increasingly recognized as genius who made the formal synthesis of all achievements of the previous music. In 1985 many record labels seized the opportunity of 300 anniversary of the birth of the great cantor from St. Thomas church in Leipzig and made special editions of his works. One of panoramic projects for Bach’s birthday celebration was Teldec Special Edition 1985 „300 Jahre J. S. Bach”. The fifth volume of the series was double album with set of five cantatas for Easter – numbers 4, 6, 31, 66 and 134 in Schmieder’s Bach Werke Verzeichnis. As signed two great personalities, Nicolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt – conductors famous for performing music of the baroque period on original instruments.

Harnoncourt and Leonhardt - Bach's Easter Cantatas

Published by Teldec in Direct Metal Mastering technology album is mostly some kind of collection of older recordings from seventies. There is one newly recorded Cantata 134. Double album is divided between two conductors. First LP featuring Gustav Leonhardt conducting instrumental group Leonhardt-Consort, choirs Collegium Vocale working under direction of Philippe Herreweghe and Knabenchor Hannover leaded by Heinz Hennig includes two cantatas BWV 66 and 134. Second LP contains three cantatas BWV 4, 6 and 31 conducted by Nicolaus Harnoncourt with baroque orchestra Concentus musicus Wien, choirs Wiener Sängerknaben and Chorus Vienensis working under direction of Hans Gillesberger. The core group of soloists is mutual for both records – Paul Esswood (alt), Kurt Equiluz (tenor) and Max van Egmond (bass). In Cantata BWV 134 this group was augmented by soloist of Knabenchor Hannover Sebastian Hennig (sopran) and René Jacobs (alt). The same happened in Cantata BWV 31 with soloists of Wiener Sängerknaben and Siegmund Nimsgern (bass). Beautiful, perfectly tuned up voices, forced in timbre and pitch and totally new sound of baroque music.
This recordings were a part of quiet revolution in art of performing the old music. The top indication of new style was use of original instruments tuned in one of original tempering systems. But this was only surface of deeper changes. When whole sound and metric system has changed, ideas of reading and constructing the work need to be redefining. This is why conductors were the most important artists in these recording sessions. Of course there is always a personal imprint in such complex work as cantata. And obviously these conductors and bands are different. Leonhardt aims to the vision of ancient, raw, so much emotionally clear as sometimes rude musical seting of Bach’s work. Harnoncourt creates equilibrium of historical aesthetics and contemporary sensitivity. While Leonhardt goes towards reconstruction of historical music, Harnoncourt builds more readable parallel of old music for today’s listener. Both represent highest level of musical artistry due to the nature of composers creativity. Different personalities and one ideology to make old music alive, sounding the way it sounded 300 years before and agitate as strongly as it was in Bach’s in early 18th century.

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