5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Bach: Magnificat (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. Now that Zelenka has been rediscovered, he merits a much wider attention as in fact one of the most original composers of the Baroque.
On the other hand, Bach's honor as a composer has been impugned in recent decades by the widespread and unaccountable accusation that he was a musical "conservative," a provincial who had little influence on the next generation except through the agency of his sons. If Bach were truly conservative, unless the word 'conservative' has some occult mantric significance, what would his music sound like? This CD gives a possible answer; it would sound like that of Kuhnau, his immediate predecessor as cantor in Leipzig! Or perhaps it might sound more like that of Pachelbel or Buxtehude. Listening to the Magnificats of Zelenka and Bach side by side, I find they had much the same radical aspirations to create a music of monumental complexity, unifying the most operatic declamation with the most intricate counterpoint. Both men were progressive leagues ahead of their contemporaries, and even ahead of their successors in the evolution of a musical vocabulary that requires committed intellectual attention from its audience. Both were writing for the future; the chief difference seems to be that the "future" discovered Bach first.
The Kuhnau Magnificat is a charming, stately piece, full of 'moments' of musical intensity. It was wise for Suzuki to place it first on this CD, however, since after the Zelenkas and the Bach, you'll find it hard to recall a note of the Kuhnau.
Trumpets, oboes, bassoons, and drums! If you enjoy the splendor of brass and the sparkle of oboes, the celebratory rumble of drums and the full-throated exuberance of a fine choir, this is a CD you will want.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 7, 2009 2:09:19 PM PST
James E. Egolf says:
Mr. Bruno strikes again with another great music review.
Posted on Mar 31, 2009 10:52:47 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 1, 2009 11:49:18 AM PDT
I used to consider Kuhnau a very boring composer, having played his sonatas/sonatinas, on piano of course, as a child. Well, I recently discovered his Biblical Sonatas performed by John Butt on a organ/clavichord/harpsichord. It's changed my view of Kuhnau completely. The expressiveness of, say, "The sadness and the rage of the King (Saul)" in the 2nd Sonata, is just amazing on clavichord.(*) IMHO, it's in no way inferior to any of, say, Handel's keyboard works I know of. I am just amazed that it is not as "popular" as it ought to be. (I have also ordered another Kuhnau/Butt: Frische Clavier Fruechte, used copies still available.)
(*) I don't know if Kuhnau indicated the instrument, but I can't think of a better choice than the clavichord for this piece.
Posted on Apr 1, 2009 12:53:53 PM PDT
Actually, there is a 2CD set of Kuhnau performed by John Butt, and you can listen to the samples at
Kuhnau: Keyboard Works (2 CD Set) Frische Clavier Früchte / Biblical Sonatas - John Butt
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2009 3:11:11 PM PDT
Giordano Bruno says:
I've heard John Butt play the Biblicals live, as well as Davitt Maroney. They were very popular among American keyboardists a decade or two ago.
In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2009 9:16:45 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 1, 2009 9:55:51 PM PDT
I see. I was just born in the wrong place at the wrong time! :) -- I don't know how JB's live performance came out, but the recording is splendid indeed!
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