Early Music Blog

22 March 2007

25 August 2006

Ensemble européen William Byrd North America tour

Ensemble Européen William Byrd has scheduled a short tour to North America this November, with stops in San Diego, Los Angeles, New Haven, New York and San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Details are here. The concert in New Haven will be a joint appearance with the Yale Schola Cantorum, directed by founding King's Singer Simon Carrington, at St. Mary's Church, 5 Hillhouse Avenue, at 8 pm on Saturday, November 11th. The program will include three grands motets and seven petits motets by Dumont. At 4:00 pm the next day, Sunday, November 12th, the Ensemble will perform a program of works by Charpentier, Dumont, Brossard and Moulinié at Corpus Christi Church in the Music Before 1800 series.

I've been enjoying their recent recording of mid-18th Century Portuguese sacred music by João Rodrigues Esteves on the Ambronay label. It sounds quite similar to (and not inferior to) sacred music from Naples of the same era.

08 October 2005 Directory of Early Music Mailing Lists and Groups Updated

Today I updated Directory of Early Music E-Mail Groups and Mailing List Archives to reflect changes over the past six months. If I have missed any active early music lists, please let me know.

03 July 2005

Koopman Bach Cantatas volume 17 - CDs 2 & 3

Without question, the most significant recording on the second and third disks of Koopman's volume 17, indeed on the entire volume, is the performance of BWV 35, a cantata for alto with Nathalie Stutzmann and Ton Koopman playing organ obligato. Indeed, it is one of the finest recordings of a Bach cantata that I have heard. The cantata begins with a well-known organ sinfonia that, together with the second sinfonia, "evidently form the first and last movements of a lost instrumental concerto", according to the liner notes by Christoph Wolff. As I mentioned in my comments on the first CD in this volume, Koopman's highly-ornamented organ solos are principal highlights of the series.

The second movement is long aria in 6/8 time with obligato organ. Stutzmann's performance is exceptional, with a nicely ornamented repeat. It is the antithesis of the traditional, wobbly Bach alto solo before the emergence of countertenors. Stutzmann's performances of the two subsequent and shorter arias, also with obligato organ, are likewise first rate. The recording engineers have done a masterful job of balancing the soloist and organ. The second organ sinfonia is almost Handelian. It's a movement in which a larger organ might make a noticeable difference.

BWV 35 is the first cantata on the third CD. The next cantata on this disk is BWV 17. It is one that would benefit from a OVPP performance, as it begins with a difficult chorus and ends with one of Bach's most beautiful simple chorales, in 3/4 time. The highlight is fine aria for tenor, performed here by Christoph Prégardien. A short soprano aria accompanied by two violins is less interesting, and I was not particularly enamored with the performance by Sandrine Piau.

The final cantata on CD 3 is BWV 57, a Christmas cantata for soprano and bass that has also been recorded by Herreweghe, a recording that I haven't heard. Koopman's version would be difficult to surpass, thanks to the fine vocal performances by Klaus Mertens and Sybella Rubens. Furthermore, the excellent performance rescues a work that musically is not among the best of the Bach cantatas. My one reservation is that Rubens might have added more elaborate ornamentation in the pathetic, slow aria, "Ich wünschte mir den Tod". Nothing could raise it to the level of a great, pathetic aria, such as Handel's "Se pietà", however.

The second CD in volume 17 begins with BWV 19, another cantata that would benefit from a OVPP performance. The opening movement is a fast, festive chorus with three trumpet accompaniment. The vocal parts are quite difficult. For example, the bass has 10 consecutive bars of solid 16th notes. The opening chorus and the closing choral, also with three-trumpet accompaniment, are the most interesting movements in BWV 19. I find the longest aria, a 6/8 adagio for tenor with cantus firmus played by a trumpet, to be rather boring. There is also a short soprano aria with two oboes d'amore, in which only the ritornello is repeated, and an accompagnato for tenor.

The second cantata on CD 2, BWV 13, is a rather dull musical work that the soloists fail to resuscitate. The most substantial aria, "Meine Seufzer" for tenor, oboe da caccia and recorders, is not helped by Paul Agnew, whose exaggerated, swell and fade performance makes me reach for the Skip button. Even the great Klaus Mertens can't rescue the boring bass aria, "Achzen und erbärmlich Weinen".

The final cantata on CD 2, BWV 56, is a familiar bass cantata of which there are many recordings. Koopman's, with Klaus Mertens, certainly is one of the best available. The first aria, "Ich will den Kreuzstab gerne tragen", like much Bach keyboard music, is very difficult to perform, but perhaps not worth the effort. However, the second aria, "Endlich wird mein Joch", is one of Bach's finest bass arias. If you dozed off after the opening chorus of BWV 19 (which would be quite understandable), it's time to wake up.

J.S. Bach. Complete Cantatas, Vol. 17. Challenge Classics CHR 72217 (3 CDs, February 2005). Notes by Christoph Wolff (pdf). Cantatas 169, 32, 58, 84, 19, 13, 56, 35, 17, 57. Ton Koopman, Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir. Sandrine Piau, soprano; Johannette Zomer, soprano; Sibylla Rubens, soprano; Nathalie Stutzmann, contralto; Bogna Bartosz, contralto; Paul Agnew, tenor; Christoph Prégardien, tenor; Jörg Dürmüller, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass. US | UK | DE | FR | CA | JP

30 June 2005

Koopman Bach Cantatas vol 17 - CD1

Since discovering the sale on nine volumes of Ton Koopman's Bach Cantatas series and ordering the four I was missing, I have been listening almost exclusively to Koopman Bach cantatas. The series includes many excellent performances, and the recording quality is first rate. That's not to say that the recordings couldn't be improved upon, with one-voice-per-part (OVPP) choral movements and more elaborate ornamentation by the vocal solists, particularly in the da capos. But the only ongoing "complete" Bach cantata series using OVPP -- the Canadian project on ATMA -- is just issuing its first CD this month. (Details.).

Joshua Rifkin's OVPP series was prematurely cancelled by Decca during the transitional period between LP and CD, when the international entertainment oligopoly suddenly cut off software to CD-haters and resistors like myself to force the few knowledgeable consumers to buy unwanted hardware and to accept mediocre, digital sound or nothing. Presumably others in addition to myself who had bought Rifkin's initial releases on LP chose "nothing" and skipped the CD-only releases, leading Polygreed to declare the project a loser. While interesting and enjoyable, Rifkin's landmark recordings fell far short of Koopman and other more recent Bach cantata recordings in the quality of individual performances, though they reflected real scholarship and not the unpersuasive arguments in support of the dull status quo advanced by Koopman and conformist musicologists.

This evening I listened to the first disk of Koopman's volume 17 for the first time. I have other recordings of at least three of the four works on this CD, but, not having listened to any of them recently, am not in a position to do a detailed, comparative review.

Newcomers to this site should bear in mind that I am not a J.S. Bach enthusiast. If given an opportunity to travel back in time and spend a day listening to Bach direct and perform his music or, alternatively, to attend an opera at any major, contemporary opera house, I would without hesitation go to the opera. Moreover, given the choice of listening to recordings of Telemann or Bach oratorios or cantatas, I usually choose Telemann. However, I appreciate that Bach was a great performer and composer, though limited by an already antique musical style and employment as a director of religious music in a succession of small cities without opera or acclaimed opera singers.

The first work on Vol 17 is a cantata for alto and organ, BWV 169. It opens with an organ sinfonia, later turned into the first movement of a harpsichord concerto. The extensive organ solo is performed expertly by Koopman, with interesting ornamentation throughout, especially in the da capo repeat. It sounds as if Koopman plays with historic fingerings, which facilitate ornamentation and unequal notes. As in other recordings in the series, Mike Fentross plays superb lute continuo, which the recording engineers have given just the right prominence, IMHO. The performance of the sinfonia might have been even better if played on an historically-correct large organ, instead of a continuo instrument, as used on this and most other recordings. However, I would recommend this set simply for the performance of the organ sinfonia.

The second movement of BWV 169 is an arioso for alto, interrupted three times by simple recitative. It sounds operatic, especially with lute continuo. The next movement is an aria for alto with elaborate organ obligato accompaniment. I'm quite fond of the clear voice of Bogna Bartosz, featured in this cantata, but wish that she had ornamented the da capo repeat. After a simple recitative comes another aria later used as a movement in a harpsichord concerto, a 12/8 chromatic siciliana. Again, Bartosz sings with pure tone and excellent command of the low notes, but misses another opportunity for ornamentation. The cantata ends with a simple recitative followed by a basic chorale.

The next work on the first CD of vol 17 is BWV 32, a work for soprano and bass. The bass, as on every recording in the series, is Klaus Mertens, who I consider to be the finest bass performer of German baroque music. The soprano is Johannette Zomer, one of the best of the sopranos in the series. (My favorite is Deborah York.) BWV 32 begins with a short, adagio aria for soprano. Zomer sings very well, with minimal vibrato, but misses an opportunity for ornamentation -- not an uncommon problem in Bach performances. However, Mertens, with the least likely vocal range to ornament, in fact employs the most elaborate ornamentation on the disk thus far in the second aria, a long da capo aria in 3/8 time with solo violin accompaniment in triplets. Following is an accompagnato for soprano and bass, then a da capo duet for soprano and bass. Zomer can just barely muster the vocal power to balance Mertens' resonant bass voice. The cantata ends with a simple chorale.

Next on the first CD is BWV 58, which I find to be the least interesting work on this disk. Like BWV 32, it is scored for soprano and bass. It begins and ends with chorale/arias for soprano and bass that might be more appealing if performed OVPP. In the middle is an aria for soprano and solo violin that was added 6 or 7 years after the first performance.

The first CD ends with BWV 84, a familiar cantata for soprano of which there are many available recordings. I wouldn't choose this one, with Sandrine Piau, but since it occupies only 13'16 on a 71'13 CD, the CD represents good value even if BWV 84 is skipped. One clearly superior recording of BWV 84 is the performance by Nancy Argenta with Monica Huggett (Koopman's original concertmaster) and Ensemble Sonnerie.

26 June 2005

New Blogger Blog

For superior archiving, I have switched the Early Music Blog from a simple html page to pages generated with Blogger software. Blogger apparently cannot be integrated with Microsoft FrontPage, so I have been unable to include the FrontPage shared borders found on all other pages of

I sought to create an easy to read format, starting with Blogger's basic template and editing the html. This has worked quite well for IE but not for Mozilla. Rather than wasting any more time trying to debug the glitch, I would simply ask Mozilla/Firefox users to blow up the blog to at least 200% with View / Text Zoom.