★My Favorite Disks (Johann Sebastian Bach)

Matthew Passion / Gustav Leonhardt

Matthew Passion / Gustav Leonhardt

There is no other recording of the “Matthew Passion” that is historical in the strict sense of the word. The boy’s soprano is a very fragile thing. After a few years of performing, his voice changes and he goes back to heaven. It is the voice of an angel. The soprano solo of the Tolzer Boys Choir is wonderful here. Regrettably, a counter-tenor is used for the alto solo. If possible, I would have liked to have had a boy sing this as well. In this sense, I think Telefunken’s complete cantatas of this period were a rare project from a historical point of view.

 

The Complete Bach Cantatas / Leonhardt, Harnoncourt

The Complete Bach Cantatas / Leonhardt, Harnoncourt

At that time, the West German label “Archiv” (yes, there were two Germany a long time ago!) Was special to Baroque music fans of my age. The Archiv label was the early music division of Deutsche Grammophon, specializing in medieval, Renaissance, baroque records. It attracted a lot of fans by adopting the elegant jacket design and the advanced old musical instrument player of the time. In Japan, there was a fan group called “Archiv Tomo no Kai”, which provided a quarterly booklet service when the annual membership fee is paid. I was belong to there too, but the members had a sense of superiority that made them feel like they were “musical elites.” The artists belonging to the Archiv label include Karl Richter, Pierre Fournier, Aurele Nicolet and Helmut Walcha. Many of the ancient instrumentalists were Basel Scola Cantorum players such as Eduard Melkus, August Wenzinger, and Hans Martin Linde. In retrospect, their performances were never original in the strict sense of the word. Nevertheless, as one of the original supremacists, I listened to their performances very hard. For example, I had a collection of Corelli and Handel’s violin sonatas played by Melkus, but I was impressed by the fact that he used the rare “lute” as an accompaniment instrument. The use of lutes in basso continuo is not uncommon nowadays, but the situation at that time was completely different.

On the other hand, cutting-edge ancient instrumentalists from the Netherlands and Belgium often recorded on another label, “Telefunken”. There were Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Bruggen, the Kuijken brothers, etc., and there was also Nikolaus Harnoncourt in Vienna. Their Bach’s complete cantatas “DasKantatenwerk” (analog), is a work that should be called a “monumental tower” in the recordings of those days. Above all, it was wonderful to appoint a boy soprano soloist (only two cantatas are by female sopranos), including the privilege of getting all musical scores. Since it was a complete collection recorded over the years, there must have been a change of generations for the soloists. The boy soprano with the best condition on the moment have been selected . I think it was a truly luxurious collection. If I were to be harsh, about woodwind players, there was some “mixture of wheat and chaff” , but it may be unavoidable. It is true that there was a considerable difference in the ability of woodwind players between the Leonhard and Harnoncourt orchestras. For example, in BWV115 aria, the flute ornamentation was completely wrong. The soloist and viola are correct, but only the flute remains wrong until the end and is not corrected, etc.

Now, I wrote that there are two cantatas sung by female soprano in Telefunken’s complete collection of Bach’s cantatas. It’s No. 51 “Jauchzet Gott In Allen Landen” and No. 199 “Mein Herze Schwimmt Im Blut”. Why was the boy soprano removed from these cantatas? The reason is not stated in the CD liner notes at all. Speculation is that it was judged unsuitable for juvenile soprano due to technical difficulty. It seems to be convincing, at least for No. 51. But what about No. 199? It seems that there is no technical problem. If anyone knows the reason, please let me know.

 

Mass in B minor / Gustav Leonhardt

I have this one by Gustav Leonhardt and Joshua Rifkin. Both are performed by a female soprano and a countertenor. As far as I know, there is no version of this pieces sung by a boy, including the solo. In other words, there is no CD of the original performance in the true sense of the word. There are two recordings on YouTube where the boy sings only the chorus. These are recordings by Thomanerchor Leipzig.

 

John Passion / La Petite Bande

Of course it is a wonderful performance. However, I don’t usually listen to it very often. This is because there is a YouTube video of Nikolaus Arnoncourt with a soloist from the Tolzer Knabenchor. Both soprano solo and alto solo are boys. It is a very valuable video. But, I think I wrote the same thing somewhere before, the Vienna Concentus Musicus’s weakpoint is woodwinds instruments. It’s not always easy to get everything perfect.

 

Christmas Oratorio / John Eliot Gardiner

There is a truly wonderful video on YouTube of Nikolaus Arnoncourt performing this piece with the soloists of the Tolzer Knabenchor, so naturally I listen to that one mostly.

 

Sonata and Partita for Unaccompanied Violin / Lucy van Dael

This is my favorite performance of this piece. I also have Sigiswald Kuijken’s CD, but I mainly listen to this one. In the old days, I used to listen to the analog recordings of Arthur Grumiaux. On the other hand, I had a disk by Otto Buchner using a curved bow called “Rundbogen”. However, it was not a historical performance at all. Recently I listen to Amazon Music a lot, and and I’m happy to say that there are some notable players who have taken up this piece. Also, in the YouTube video of “The Netherlands Bach Society”, the leader Shunsuke Sato gives a performance that can be described as phenomenal. It’s worth a look.

 

Unaccompanied Cello Suites / Yo-Yo Ma

Unaccompanied Cello Suites / Yo-Yo Ma

I mainly listen to his recordings released in 1997. There is nothing better than this album so-called “healing music” for sleeping. I think this is Bach’s best performance. Also Yo-Yo Ma has one recorded in 1982 and the latest recording in 2017. However, I haven’t listened to the latter yet. In the olden days, Pablo Casals’ analog performances are nostalgic. when playing with ancient instruments, I listen to Wieland Kuijken, Anner Bylsma, Hidemi Suzuki, and others. Of those, I like playing by Yo-Yo Ma the most because of its graceful tone and phrasing.

 

Musical Offering / Karl Richter

Musical Offering / Karl Richter

I’ve listened to a lot of records of this work. And this was the first one. Great performances by Karl Richter, Aurele Nicolet and Otto Buchner. What I was interested in during the recording condition was the volume of the harpsichord. It’s extremely small compared to other modern instruments. I thought it should have been recorded a little closer to microphon. However, it is no exaggeration to say that I was able to touch the abyss of Bach by listening to this record. Shortly thereafter, I acquired Munchinger’s “The Art of Fugue.” I also have two recordings of the Kuijken brothers, and I usually listen to them more often. Also, Carlo Chiarapa’s performance.

 

The Art of Fugue / Karl Munchinge

The Art of Fugue / Karl Munchinger

I’ve listened to all kinds of performances of The Art of Fugue, but this is the first Art of Fugue record I ever bought, and of course it was an analog record. I listened to until disk was “frayed”. The music is performed mainly by string ensemble, but there are also two harpsichords, a three-part mirror fugue arranged by Bach himself, and a wind instrument (flute) in the canon group, giving it a rich variety of sounds. As for ancient instruments, I like Esperion conducted by Jordy Savall and the harpsichord performance by Koopman. The organ by Helmut Walcher is also worthy of mention.

 

Bach Flute Works / Frans Bruggen

Bach Flute Works / Frans Bruggen

The shock of hearing this record for the first time is still unforgettable. It feels like the conventional wisdom has been completely overturned. Bruggen came to Japan for the first time and gave a concert in Sapporo. At that time, with the kindness of the president of the musical instrument store of the organizer, I was allowed to attend a dinner party with Bruggen at his home. When I was young, I asked Bruggen a stupid question like “How long do you practice recorders?” His answer to that was “nothing.” By that time the recorder was already an instrument of the past for him. Thinking back, he had just recorded all of Bach’s flute sonatas, and would have been wrestling with the difficult aria obbligato every day on a project for the complete Bach cantatas. He later said, “Now I have to devote all my time to practicing Traverso.” And the results can be heard in the complete Bach Cantata collection.

 

Bach Flute Works / Barthold Kuijken

Bach Flute Works / Barthold Kuijken

Bart’s performance that always sets an example for Traverso performance. It’s definitely the pinnacle of playing these pieces. The flute, which sounds really good from bass to treble with accurate intonation, is as natural as exhaling (although it is exhaling). It was recorded in 1988, so it’s not too early, but it feels like it was released to the world “with full satisfaction.” Bruggen was much faster to record on the original flute, and Konrad Hunteler and others had already recorded all the songs around this time. When I listen to Bart’s performance again, I think he is definitely the best flutist in the world.

 

Bach Flute Works / Jean-Pierre Rampal

Bach Flute Works / Jean-Pierre Rampal

I think this record came with the score of all the pieces as an appendix. This was the forerunner of the later complete Bach church cantatas by Telefunken. At that time, the combination of Rampal and Lacroix was very active. Their performance was very carefree and pleasant to the ear, which is the essence of Rampal’s music. Surprisingly, the young Jordi Savall played the cello in this performance. There were several other “Baroque Flute Masterpieces” by Rampal Lacroix on Erato’s low price records. The one I remember was Rameau’s Concert, and I was very moved when I heard “La Livri”.

 

Bach Flute Works / Francois Lazarevich, Jean Rondeau

Bach Flute Works / Francois Lazarevich, Jean Rondeau

Here is a CD I bought recently. Francois Lazarevic is the performer I’m paying the most attention to at the moment. I love the indescribable “A feeling of weakness in a good sense” in his playing. The harpsichordist Jean Rondeau, who plays with him, is also an active harpsichordist in recent years. The performance of Bach by these two representatives of the fourth generation of old music is transparent.

 

The Complete Bach Organ Works / Helmut Walcha / Ton Koopman

The Complete Bach Organ Works / Helmut Walcha / Ton Koopman

The Complete Bach Organ Works / Helmut Walcha / Ton Koopman

Bach’s organ works are numbered from the Trio Sonata of BWV525 to the Choral Variations of BWV771. In Walcha’s complete organ works, the complete “The Art of Fugue” is included as a bonus track. In addition, it contains the “completed” version of the unfinished fugue by Walcha. It’s a great value CD. On the other hand, in Koopman’s CD I am happy to listen to that the Schubler Chorale and Leipzig Chorale are recorded together with the original chorale. Not only that, but Koopman’s disc also includes recordings from BWV 1081 onwards, which were recently added as supplements, making it a good value as well.

 

The Well-Tempered Clavier Complete / Helmut Walcha

The Well-Tempered Clavier Complete / Helmut Walcha

It was from Helmut Walcha’s records that I learned of many of Bach’s harpsichord works long ago. I had French suites, English suites, Goldberg Variations, etc. on Walcha records. He was a performer in the modern harpsichord era, but first used the historical harpsichord on baroque pitch in 1974. It is this CD that I have. I already had Gustav Leonhardt on analog, but when I heard that Walcha was playing an old instrument, I bought it because I wanted it excessively.

 

Goldberg Variations / Helmut Walcha etc.

Goldberg Variations / Helmut Walcha etc.

Bach performed at least three miracles in his life. The first miracle was the “Goldberg Variations”, the second was the “Musical Offering”, and the third was the “The Art of Fugue”. The greatest miracle of them all is the “Goldberg Variations”. Why? The reason is this. This piece is a miracle in that it does not make the listener feel that it is a miracle. That is the difference between this piece and the other two. Later, Bach made the bass line of this variation into 14 canons to complete its miracle.I have several kinds of records. They are by Helmut Walcha, Zuzana Ruzickova, and Gustav Leonhardt. On Piano performance Glenn Gould is the best. Recently, Jean Rondeau’s performance uploaded on YouTube is also excellent.

 

Brandenburg ConcertosBrandenburg ConcertosBrandenburg ConcertosBrandenburg ConcertosBrandenburg Concertos

Brandenburg Concertos / Gustav Leonhardt and others

I have six or seven disks of the Brandenburg Concertos, including analog and digital versions. The beauty of this collection is that every performance is enjoyable in its own way. Among them, I like the Kuijken version of the 2nd concerto played by Jean-Francois Madeuf on natural trumpet. As for No. 5, Leonhardt’s two discs are good, but I think it is hard to discard Ton Koopman’s ” innovative” performance. For No.3, No.4 and No.6 the vivacious tempo Koopman and Masaaki Suzuki are seem to be good for me.

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