CD and Other Review

Review: Bach: Mass in B Minor (Arcangelo)

British conductor Jonathan Cohen has a refreshing lack of concern for apparently ‘sacred’, apparently never to be tampered with, performance traditions that can, and do, leave other performances of the B Minor Mass historically boxed-in. Cohen calmly reconnects us with JS Bach’s actual sacred inner-life. Like John Butt’s 2009 reading with the Dunedin Consort on Linn Records, intuition tells you that Cohen’s new B Minor Mass will be viewed kindly by history, the freshness of this conceptually rigorous and unified recording born of an active engagement with the material, rather than requiring the piece to slot conveniently inside an existing point of view. Not that Cohen has anything much in common with Butt. In Arcangelo, period and modern instruments coexist unapologetically, while the Dunedin Consort is an ideologically hardcore period instrument group. Butt unsurprisingly adheres to one-voice-to-a-part whereas Cohen deploys four voices – except in the Confiteor Unum Baptisma where he too reverts to one voice per part, appropriately framing Bach’s subliminal glance back to an older contrapuntal style. But the nuances of Cohen’s perspective run deeper than mere matters of personnel. Butt – alongside other recent interpreters on record: hello Marc Minkowski and Philippe Herreweghe – need you to…

February 20, 2015
CD and Other Review

Review: Vivaldi: Pietà (Philippe Jaroussky)

With this new recording featuring a selection of Vivaldi’s motets for alto voice, stellar French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky comes full circle a decade or so after his previous two recordings devoted to Vivaldi’s most virtuosic music. In doing so, he similarly demonstrates the operatic and concerto-like qualities of these ostensibly devotional works. This is music that delights in virtuosity, both subtle and exultant, as a legitimate form of praise.  If motets such as Clarae stellae, first performed in 1715 at the Ospedale della Pietà whose name is forever linked to that of the Red Priest’s, and Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater of 1712 demonstrate a more demure style with occasional melismatic outbursts, it’s a different story with the later Longe mala, umbrae, terrores. In the first section alone, Jaroussky must negotiate unrelenting roulades, which he does with uncompromising élan; likewise the final Alleluia which most obviously recalls an opera aria or the final movement of some lost violin concerto. But just listen to the honeyed, tender melismas in Descende, o coeli vox and Jaroussky reveals a truer, deeper artistry.  So with these works, which include an exquisite introduction to a lost Miserere, a gently throbbing Salve Regina and the Domine Deus from…

February 20, 2015