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Bach: Magnificat Import

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Audio CD, Import, May 1, 1999
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Editorial Reviews


Bach's setting of the Magnificat is one of his most often-recorded vocal works; as a rule, it's paired with one of Bach's lavishly scored festal cantatas. (The Easter Oratorio seems to be a current favorite.) Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan had a different idea: they've paired Bach's Magnificat with roughly contemporary settings by Johann Kuhnau, who was Bach's immediate predecessor in Leipzig, and Jan Dismas Zelenka, who was a composer at the court of Saxony in Dresden. Zelenka is an interesting composer, among the most underrated of the Baroque era. His writing is less dense and intricate than Bach's--at times it looks forward to the simpler, more elegant style of Haydn and C.P.E. Bach. Zelenka knew his counterpoint, however, and was fond of slipping the occasional surprising chord change into his music. The two Magnificat settings by Zelenka presented here are relatively short (about 10 minutes each) and cover most of the text in their opening movements, which are extended choruses with full orchestra and florid soprano solos; each concludes with a splendid fugal "Amen" along the lines of the one Handel used to conclude Messiah. Kuhnau's Magnificat, on the other hand, has a format much like Bach's: each verse of the canticle is set as a separate short movement, with choruses and solo movements alternating. Set beside Bach's dazzling setting, Kuhnau's can't help but seem bland, but it's festive and pleasant to hear. As for the Bach--well, the BCJ has an awful lot of competition; they don't quite achieve the gusto of Gardiner, the radiance of Koopman, or the sheer manic energy of Parrott, but Suzuki and his choir truly get the measure of such fugal choruses as "Sicut locutus" (and Zelenka's "Amen" choruses), and they acquit themselves well overall. Countertenor Akira Tachikawa has done plenty of ensemble singing in Europe with such groups as Concerto Vocale and Ensemble Gilles Binchois; he copes well enough here, but doesn't seem to have yet the soloistic flair of his fellows Yoshikazu Mera and Robin Blaze. Bass soloist Chiyuki Urano is somewhat stolid; tenor Gerd Türk sings eloquently (if with a bit of strain). The two sopranos, however, get the most to sing, and the bright, clear voices of Miah Persson and Yukari Nonoshita steal this show entirely. --Matthew Westphal

1. 1. Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum
2. 2. Et Exultavit Spiritus Meus
3. 3. Quia Repexit Humilitatem
4. 4. Quia Fecit Mihi Magna
5. 5. Et Misericordia Eius
6. 6. Fecit Potentiam
7. 7. Deposuit Potentes
8. 8. Esurientes Implevit Bonis
9. 9. Suscepit Irael
10. 10. Sicut Loctus Est
11. 11. Gloria Patri
12. 12. Sicut Erat In Principio
13. 1. Tutti. Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum
14. 2. Solo. Edurientes Implevit Bonis
15. 3. Tutti. Magnificat / Gloria Patri
16. 4. Tutti. Amen
17. 1. Tutti. Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum
18. 2. Tutti. Suscepit Israel
19. 3. Tutti. Amen
20. 1. Magnificat Anima Mea Dominum
See all 31 tracks on this disc

Product Details

  • Performer: Yukari Nonoshita, Gerd Turk
  • Orchestra: Bach Collegium Japan Orchestra
  • Conductor: Masaaki Suzuki
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Kuhnau, Jan Dismas Zelenka
  • Audio CD (May 1, 1999)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: Bis
  • ASIN: B00000J2RZ
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #386,247 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Giordano Bruno on March 5, 2009
Format: Audio CD
First the performance: Masaaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan do their best work on robust, broadly expressive works like these Magnificats -- works that call for energy and a firm baton, and works that profit by the disciplined grandeur of the Collegium choir. In other words, these four Magnificats suit Suzuki's strengths as a conductor. Even so, I don't suppose many Bach fans would acclaim this performance to be their all-time favorite recording of the Bach Magnificat. What makes this CD particularly interesting is the juxtaposition of the oft-heard Bach with the seldom-heard Magnificat by Kuhnau and the two almost-never-heard Magnificats by Jan Dismas Zelenka.

Zelenka has something of a cult following that has promoted his reputation from the depths of oblivion to a stature among cognoscenti as the "Bohemian Bach" and one of the most progressive composers of his era. Zelenka (b. 1679) and Bach (b. 1685) were contemporaries, each certainly aware of the other's music. Zelenka had probably the better job, as a court composer in the Saxon capital Dresden. Both Zelenka and Bach wrote some of their finest and most distinctive music quite late in their lives, and in both cases that music was largely met with inattention until the 20th C rediscovery of it. Zelenka's two Magnificat settings are usually concise; all the text is set in a unified declamatory movement, followed by a flamboyant countrapuntal Amen nearly as long as the declamation. The Magnificat in D major does indeed sound more like Haydn than like Kuhnau or Bach, especially in the instrumental writing, which lends some credence to the idea of Zelenka as a progressive composer ahead of his generation. Be it so or not, both of these Magnificats are musically magnificent.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By David J. Friedlander on September 18, 2012
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I first heard a Suzuki led group in Handel's Messiah and if ever there was a test of an ensemble's mettle, that certainly qualifies. I was literally floored over the performance and especially captivating was the clean and lively sound conveyed beautifully by everyone involved. After that head turning experience I would of course be favorably inclined to any recording with Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. I've also come to admire Jan Dismas Zelenka and was actively seeking out his music when I came across this issue. I love Bach but already had a few recordings of his Magnificat in D major, BWV 243. The Kuhnau was extraneous to me and if it turned out good, would be considered a bonus. It was the Zelenka pieces I was interested in and because there are two of his works on the CD, it became doubly attractive. So I acquired this without hearing a note of it, because I was impressed enough with Suzuki, BIS is a good label and there was the double Zelenka.

The saying "pig in a poke" hasn't stayed with us without good reason! One should heed it and abandon it only when there are other serious considerations. My uninformed ideas about the CD ended up with me scratching my head and in serious doubt about what I'd done. When I examined the tracks, I could see there were 2 Zelenka Magnificats allright, but they were very short, more like torsos with the C major having four movements and the D major only three. Total time of both combined were about equal to the Kuhnau and dwarfed by the Bach. They occupied the 'weak' position in the middle between the other pieces. So, I was set for a disappointment as I placed the CD in the changer.

Saved! The music is great right out of the gate.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peter T. Wolf on August 2, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Wow !! What a piece of music !! Ive never heard the Kuhnau Magnificat before. In fact Ive never even heard of him before. Im buying this CD right off the bat. If you like grand baroque choral music complete with all the brass and drums then get this one.
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