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Soli Deo Gloria, The Leipzig Bach Festival 2008:  A  special three part  report by Aart van der Wal  - Part Two (AvW)

Part Two : The Music 17th - 20th June


Jazz at the Parkbühne: the Jacques Loussier Trio
© Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes


Making choices…

The overall program was so  diversified and extensive, that is was impossible to attend all concerts and events;  no-one can be in two places at the same time. Additionally , choices were often difficult to make between for example a very promising performance and a full day expert guided tour somewhere in Saxony under the Bach Archive’s patronage. And not everyone, me included, could possibly be present from day one (Saturday, June 14) for the opening concert in St. Thomas’s Church, with Daniel Reuss conducting the Collegium Vocale Gent in the 1725 ediition of  Bach’s St. John Passion, with Christoph Prégardien (Evangelist and tenor arias), Michael Volle (Jesus), Hana Blazíkova (soprano), Damien Guillon (altus) and Peter Kooij (Pilatus and bass arias).  Robert Schumann wrote on 2nd April 1849 in a letter to Georg Dietrich Otten about this work: “Do you know Bach’s St. John Passion, the ‘little’ one, as it is known? Doubtless you do! But don’t you find it so much bolder, more powerful, more poetic than that according to the Gospel of St. Matthew?” Whether or not Reuss proved the point, his performance was not only lauded in the local newspapers, but also highly praised in the streets and coffee houses for its great textual transparency, zest and structural insight.  I heard almost everywhere that it had been a real gem in every aspect. Yes, I felt remorse, I should have arrived on the 14th, instead of the 17th, but on the other hand,  I could look forward to the many jewels still to come!



Daniel Reuss conducts CollegiumVocale Gent in Bach’s St. John Passion in St. Thomas’s Church
©Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes


The first jewel: a miraculous pasticcio in St. Thomas’s Church: “Wer ist der, so von Edom kömmt” by Graun, Telemann and Bach

Carl Heinrich Graun composed the passion cantata “Ein Lämmlein geht und trägt die Schuld” in Brunswick (Braunschweig) between 1725 and 1735. The work – also known as Graun’s “little passion” – was quite popular in those days, as numerous copies of the score were passed on, even far and wide in the 18th century. A copy belonged to Johann Christoph Altnickol, which was later acquired by his brother-in-law Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who finally listed it in his estate in 1790 as “A Passion by C.H. Graun, with splendid 4 and 5 part chorales and fugues. Full score.”

The American scholar John W. Grubbs studied the score in 1965 and found that this was definitely  not the original version of Graun’s cantata but a real pasticcio, with added movements by other composers. Questions were raised about the author(s) of the  arrangement. In total 11 movements had been added, and in accordance with the customary church services in Leipzig it was laid out in two parts. The unknown arranger had used the Palm Sunday cantata “Wer ist der, so von Edom kömmt” by Georg Philipp Telemann (TWV 1:1585) as the prologue (aka exordium). The transition from the introduction to the Passion’s action was constructed from the chorale “Christus, der uns selig macht”, which also stemmed from Telemann’s cantata.

The second part contains nine movements by other composers, including two or three by Johann Sebastian Bach, starting with the massive chorale chorus from his cantata “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott” BWV 127, but now transposed from the original F major to E flat major,  and followed by a bass aria of unknown authorship  (although its style definitely points to Bach, as is the case with the homogenous chorale movements). Two or three of the additional movements were clearly composed by Bach,  while  the contributions to the score by his pupil and son-in-law Altnickol reveal that the pasticcio version itself does goes back to Bach directly, or at least to his Leipzig circle.

The scale of Bach’s participation  in the creation of the final score may be questioned, but the work gives us at least a few hints to one of his lost Passions, and most probably his last one, at any rate composed after 1733. The chorale chorus “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr’ Mensch und Gott” is not a copy of the autograph score of BWV 127, but from a strongly revised version which itself can also  have been only written by Bach himself. In this form the movement could have been taken from the missing lost Passion, from which the bass arioso “So heb ich den meine Auge sehnlich auf” was presumably “borrowed”. As for the libretto's form, the vocal part – accompanied by two unidentified instruments and continuo – recalls the tenor accompaniment in the St. Matthew Passion “O Schmerz! Hier zittert das gequälte Herz”. Whether or not Bach’s librettist Christian Friedrich Henrici (alias Picander) had any hand in it needs further research.

Bach might also have taken part in the arrangement of the motet type chorus “Der Gerechte kommt um”. The instrumental accompaniment resembles close parallels with the chorale chorus “O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht” BWV 118. In any case, the working model adopted here comes close to Bach’s arrangements of works by other composers such as Johann Kaspar Kerll and Antonio Caldara.

Setting the musicological question marks aside, conductor David Timm led an exuberant performance with lots of drama on Tuesday, June 17, in St. Thomas’s Church , but also conducted with really amazing elegance and stylistic empathy. There were many delights to be discovered in this illuminating score, fiercely paced and accented, with crystal clear flutes and oboes and with  the quite impressive and opulent sonorities of bassoon and double bass almost absorbing the spacious acoustic church setting. The highly spirited choral contributions of the Cantores Lipsiensis made the most out of the marvelous  subtleties incorporated in this splendid and  very colourful work. The vocal soloists (Gesine Adler – soprano, Susanne Krumbiegel – alto, Martin Petzhold – tenor and Gotthold Schwarz – bass) showed exquisite refinement,  perfect musical judgement and great textual allure. The Pauliner Barockensemble excelled in equally inspired contributions, with their light, fresh, supple and secure tone. In short a most convincing performance.


David Timm rehearses “Wer ist der, so von Edom kömmt” from the cembalo in St. Thomas’s Church
©Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes


A Cantata feast:  Bach and Telemann in St. Nikolai’s Church

Bach’s chorale cantatas belong for the greater part to the second Leipzig cycle. In most of these the chorale verses only figure in the opening and closing chorales;  the recitatives and arias in between serve as a free exposition of the chorale verses. Although the sacred cantatas were written for either the protestant church service or for specific liturgical events, each and every one of them holds its own unique character, far from the routine production that one would expect under the circumstances in which Bach had to produce a cantata for every week (apart from the previously composed cantatas which he reused or adapted to suite the purpose). A good example is the cantata which opened this concert: “Nimm von uns, Herr, du treuer Gott” BWV 101 for the tenth Sunday after Trinity, drafted for the performance in St. Thomas’s Church on August 13, 1724. The vocal parts of the great opening chorale are treated in the style of a chorale motet, with anticipating imitations in the lower parts and with the cantus firmus line in long stretched notes in the soprano voices. The brief orchestral accompaniment is dominated by constantly recurring, insistent short motifs which are so typical of Bach’s composing style. Another feature are the clustered dissonances in moments of great distress, as at “grosse Not” (“dire need”), a strong plea for salvation which cannot be missed.

The next work, Telemann’s sacred cantata “Herr, strafe mich nicht in deinem Zorn” TWV 1:771, is rarely heard in public. The cantata was composed for the nineteenth Sunday after Trinity and performed in Hamburg for the first time in 1723. So it dates from the same period as Bach’s cantata BWV 101, but the differences are nevertheless striking. Before Telemann left Frankfurt Main in 1721 for Hamburg to take up the position of cantor and music director of the city’s principal churches, he had made the request to retain his citizenship of Frankfurt, committing himself in return to send new music to Frankfurt regularly, as is the case with this cantata, first performed there in 1724. In contrast to Bach’s cantata, Telemann opted for an introductory sinfonia, with the first part of the opening psalm text ishaped as an arioso duet for alto and tenor  before the choir and the full orchestra participates in a quick fugue (“Eile mir beizustehen”, “Hasten to help me”). The full orchestra only returns in the simple but trumpet-heightened final chorale, just after the cantata reaches its climax in the third aria, in which the bass voice is supported by an unconventionally drafted orchestral accompaniment, which clearly emphasises Telemann’s great talents as a composer.

Even more rarely heard are the Misereres in C minor by Jan Dismas Zelenka and Johann Adolph Hasse, both works being associated with the Dresden Catholic court. The structures of the two settings are, however, basically different. Hasse composed his Miserere, a setting of an earlier Venetian arrangement for women’s voices only, in the customary manner as a ‘number psalm’, comprising a series of independent movements, unlike Zelenka who  grouped all psalm verses into one single movement. Only the subsequent doxology “Gloria patri” is subdivided into individual movements and separated from the psalm text. Compared to Hasse’s work,  Zelenka’s setting is more imaginative and expressive, but it was good to hear both works in an excellent live performance like this.

The last work on the program, Bach’s sacred cantata “Herr, gehe nicht ins gericht” BWV 105 for the ninth Sunday after Trinity was an excellent choice in terms of formal and expressive contrasts. It is one of Bach’s most peculiar cantatas, as is shown in the soprano aria “Wir zittern und wanken der Sünder Gedanken”, without any supporting bass fundamental, symbolizing that the sinner lacks stable ground. Both violins play a persistent tremolo throughout the movement, expressing the trembling (“zittern”), above which the two responding melodic lines of the soprano and oboe waver (“wanken”), further enhanced by long intervals and colourful register changes. At the same time, strange harmonies pop up, especially at the word “Folter” (torment), embedded in major and minor seconds. The closing chorale with trembling tremolo string parts is also quite unusual. Here, Bach refers to the previously heard soprano aria. However, during its further course the ‘trembling’ diminishes and finally come to rest completely.

The lofty splendor of the choral singing by the Dresden Chamber Choir and the orchestral playing by the Dresden Baroque Orchestra in tight focus made an overwhelming impression. A great compliment is also due to the vocal soloists (Anna Prohaska – soprano, Susanne Langner – alto, Hans Jörg Mammel – tenor and Henryk Böhm – baritone) for their profoundly felt treatments of the text, well characterized singing and meticulous articulation. Hans-Christoph Rademann’s conducting was another gem, with much attention to orchestral and vocal balancing, crystal clear textures and fine dynamic shading. The mystical, meditative nature of both Misereres was superbly caught. I was also present at the rehearsal sessions and noticed Rademann handling the spacious but recessed acoustics of St. Nikolai most intelligently , resulting in a bright, sharply defined sound picture that brought out vivid transparent lines in the multiple vocal  and instrumental parts. The entire program on Wednesday, June 18 was recorded by MDR for broadcast on July 26.


The Cantata feast in St. Nikolai’s Church: Hans-Christoph Rademann conducts the Dresden Chamber Choir and the Dresden Baroque Orchestra
©Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes



Sir Roger Norrington’s first concert in St. Thomas’s Church: Bach and his sons

The program on Thursday, June 19th offered a mix of traditional and daring works: Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto in F major BWV 1046 and Mozart’s Symphony in E flat major KV 543 as the cornerstones, and in between C.P.E. Bach’s Symphony in B minor Wq 182 No. 5 and J.Chr. Bach’s Symphony in G minor Op  6 No. 6. It was all about historical perspective: from Bach’s genial conventionality to C.P.E Bach’s almost revolutionary break-through with his daring symphonies. At the end of the same spectrum stands Mozart’s KV 543, the first work of his final symphonic tryptich.

In the beginning of the 18th century the sinfonia or symphony was still the short three-movement piece played as an introduction to a longer Italian vocal work. The usual pattern was fast-slow-fast.  Around 1720 the genre began  to emancipate itself and to become an independent instrumental piece. Half a century later it had reached the status of the most important musical forms on the concert scene. Norrington’s choice therefore, was all in all a very logical one.

At the very start of the concert the first of the six virtuoso pieces which Bach wrote in 1721 for the margrave Christian Ludwig von Brandenburg, did not sit well. Bach’s intention to have the instruments (two horns, three oboes, bassoon, piccolo violin, strings and basso continuo) competing with each other was not adequately picked up by Norrington and his team, resulting in uninspired back and forth music making, as if they did not grasp the basic idea behind it. The musicians (standing instead of seating, as they must have been in those days of the first half of the 18th century) might have been faced with both the spacious and recessed acoustic characteristics of St. Thomas’s Church, and the more so in a full house, but one of the best European chamber orchestras (the German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen) should nevertheless have been able to overcome this difficulty. Their performance was blandly lackluster and that was about all to be said of it.



Sir Roger Norrington and the German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen in Bach’s First Brandenburg
Concerto in St. Thomas’s Church  -  ©Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes

Things worked much better in the symphonies in B and G minor.  Polish and brilliance suddenly returned, with a full-bodied sound combined with suave grace, the many syncopations accenting the dissonant clashes. The typical push-pull discourse came off very well, with a host of wondrous felicities to be enjoyed. The carefully built up tensions and contrasts, the sharply defined rhythms and the bouncy energy were perfectly tailored in fiercely brilliant sound. Incidentally, juicy thunderstorms ran through the entire orchestra, as in the final Allegro molto of the G minor symphony. The textual musical conflicts between Bach and his sons could not have been presented in any better or more convincing way. One might argue that Norrington – and with him Harnoncourt for that matter – tends to exaggerate accents and dynamics, occasionally pushing the music in a kind of overdrive mode, but with such hand-in-glove ensemble-playing it made an almost breathtaking impression. And let us be frank: in a live performance more risks may be taken than in a recording session, often with astonishing results.

The performance of Mozart’s great symphony in E flat definitely put the crown on the previous jewels. We got it all, from the highly sensitive and affective phrasing and the splendid lift in the thematic development to the most beautifully contoured woodwinds and most distinctive string playing, consistently well balanced, with the tremendous energy in this music perfectly laid out. As expected, Norrington also made most of the merciless dissonances in the slow introduction. The tensions on the rostrum must also have touched the audience: no cough, no paper rustling, no other obtrusive noises killed the utter concentration. After the concert had ended the cheers broke lose. Norrington and the orchestra took it with their biggest smile ever. Of course!

… and rehearsing Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 KV 543 in St. Thomas’s Church
©Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes

A thrilling performance by the Ensemble Raccanto in the Old Town Hall

First of all, the Old Town Hall (“Altes Rathaus”) is a place to cherish. It is just one of those many impressive baroque venues in Leipzig and Saxony that makes a visit there  so  rewarding in itself. But when a concert is played there too, as it was on that late Thursday night, June 19th, there is really nothing more that one could wish for

The Ensemble Raccanto was founded in 2005, as the fruitful outcome of the close co-operation between organist and cembalist Robert Schröter and the countertenor Andreas Pehl. They prefer to make music on basis of special themes ike “A musical bird cage” with  baroque music rooted in the animal world or “Singing geography, a trip through Europe”, when the ensemble members show themselves as story tellers (“raccanto”) and singers (“cantare”), their goal being to bring ancient music closer to the heart. The ensemble also writes specific arrangements for their own use, a well-known practice in the baroque period. Last year the first CD “Il Sassone” was released with works by a.o. Hasse.

Their appearance in the Old Town Hall offered a mix of two very well known pieces: Bach’s sacred cantata “Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust” BWV 170, and Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater RV 621, together with two much less familiar works: Hasse’s “Aurae placidae spirate” and Melchior Hoffmann’s Symphony in F minor. Altogether a fascinating sample-card of the ensemble’s musical and technical skills, helped by the excellent acoustics of the modestly sized “Festsaal” (festivities hall). The countertenor’s voice proved to be in excellent shape, but his musical intelligence really swept everybody away, demonstrating flair, refinement and eloquence in his singing.  Arrestingly crisp playing, with sensitive phrasing balanced dynamics, and imaginative instrumental colouring further emphasized the virtues of both the Raccanto and the small hall. One could easily pick up numerous details in the strings (two violins, viola, violoncello and violone) and the woodwinds (bassoon, oboe and oboe d’amore). The silvery sound of the little organ was a delight on itself.

The Cuarteto Casals in the Hall of Justice

The Madrid based Casals Quartet was established in 1997 and quickly got worldwide recognition after winning a great number of awards in Britain, Germany and Spain. They soon went global, with appearances in all main concert halls all  over the world. Those who have listened to their CDs and live performances are familiar with the quartet’s powerful lyricism and diversified string tone. But there is much more, like their enchanting naturalness and sweetness of tone, unrestrained clarity;  in short the cumulative impact of their interpretations and communicative powers. These are definitely not musicians who still have to find their way in the classic, romantic or contemporary repertoire. As soon as they start to play, the music instantly catches fire. They  build musical ideas with great effect, the rubati are well measured, with hardly any portamento to underline expressiveness. They let the music speak, which leaves out mannerisms or self indulgence. There is always a discernible sense of proportion, a great variety in sonority and the full understanding of the tonal implications as part of the music’s structure. It all sounds heart rendingly spontaneous, but must have been meticulously prepared.


 The Cuarteto Casals in the Hall of Justice
©Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes


The program on Friday, June 20, in the most impressive but uncomfortably hot court-room of  the “Bundesverwaltungsgericht” (Hall of Justice) was carefully chosen: Schubert’s “Quartettsatz” in C minor D 703 (played without the slow movement’s 14 bars which Schubert abruptly broke off), Mendelssohn’s Quartet in A minor Op 13 and finally, after the interval, the last of Beethoven’s three Rasumovsky Quartets, in C major Op 59 No. 3.  Each and every work was  presented to striking effect, a demonstration of sheer brilliance and deep insight in the meaning and purpose of these great chamber works. The perfectly integrated themes in the “Quartettsatz” and their almost violent progression, or the effortless delivery of Mendelssohn’s virtuoso string writing, or the straightforward pulse and daring dynamics in the Beethoven were dressed in most colourful jackets, the slow movements getting under the skin. Moreover, the excellent acoustics and the consequential sharp sound definition contributed considerably to one of the best live performances of these quartets I had ever heard. Very compelling indeed, in terms of technical supremacy and musical insight.


A quite different St. Matthew Passion in St. Nikolai’s Church

On November 3, 1767 Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (already 53 at that time) must have felt extremely happy: he finally got the job of music director of the five main churches in Hamburg and cantor of the Johnanneum school, as the successor to his godfather Georg Philipp Telemann.  At last, Bach’s second-eldest son could get out of the suffocating court of Frederick the Second of Prussia, where he served as a low-paid harpsichordist. In Hamburg he could spread out his wings, take up a wide range of musical activities and compose and conduct sacred and figurative music for all kinds of occasions. This is what he wanted so much and what he finally got. His previous attempts to leave his post at the court had all failed. In 1750 he did not get the position of cantor at St. Thomas’s Church in Leipzig as a direct successor after  his father's death  (who had died that same year), aand  he also failed to get that post again 1755, after Harrer’s death. He was equally unsuccessful in Zittau, in 1753.

Prior to his arrival in Hamburg he asked many questions od Telemann’s grandson Georg Michael, at that time together with the singer Schieferlein,  the interim music director of church music in Hamburg. He wanted to know from him whether a Passion was performed there every year, and when. If so, was it performed in the traditional way, with the Evangelist or other persona, or was it arranged as a kind of oratorio, with reflections in the manner of Ramler’s Passion music? On how many singers and instrumentalist could he reckon with in those churches? Were all the customary instruments available? Etc.

Alas, Georg Michael Telemann’s reply has not been preserved, but we know that in Hamburg’s five main churches Passions were performed in the traditional manner, with the Evangelist (the oratorio Passion), on the Sundays before Easter. In the secondary churches Passions could be either oratorio Passions or Passion oratorios in the style of Ramler’s “Tod Jesu”. The annual oratorio Passion performances followed the four-year cycle as per the Bible’s gospel sequence (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

At the end of March 1768 Carl Philipp finally arrived in Hamburg. It was too late to organize and conduct that year’s Passion (St. Luke was on the desks this time). Georg Michael Telemann took over and conducted one of his grandfather’s St. Luke Passions in the various churches instead. The following year the St. John Passion would have to be performed, but Bach broke the sequence and started his series in Hamburg with a newly composed St. Matthew Passion (eventually, he would conduct a total of 21 Passions there).

C.P.E. Bach’s St. Matthew Passions are based on three different types of text. The basic libretto consists of the Bible verses from Matthew (26 v. 36 to 27 v. 50 and are therefore shorter than the text as used by J.S. Bach, i.e. Matthew 26 v. 1 to 27 v. 66). The second type are the chorale texts, which are taken from the “Neu-vermehrtes Hamburgisches Gesangbuch” hymnal.  Carl Philipp notated the four-part chorales without the text but added the respective number and verse from the hymnal in the 1766 edition, just to facilitate the copyists of the various parts. The third textual  layer comprised the madrigal texts of the choruses, arias and ariosi compiled specifically for each Passion. These were conceived – with only one exception – by Anna Luise Karsch (it is not clear whether the at that time highly esteemed poetess, who lived in Berlin and was acquainted with Johann Christian, delivered the text only to him). The text of the aria “Wende dich, zu meinem Schmerz” was written by Johann Joachim Eschenburg and Telemann had already used it for his St. Luke Passion in 1764).

As with all of CPE Bach's further Passions, the 1769 Passion (H 782 in the work catalogue) is in fact a compilation (pasticcio). Carl Philipp took pieces from other works and various composers to create a new entity, although a large part is originally his. It is true, however, that the chorales, most of the turba choruses and the chorale that concludes the Passion are his father’s, whereas one turba chorus (“Weissage uns”) stems from a St. Mark Passion by Homilius. Additionally, the Bible text recitatives are very strongly linked with those in J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.  On the other hand, Carl Philipp drafted all the madrigal movements himself and apart from the first chorus “Fürwahr, er trug unsere Krankheit” (a clear rearrangement of the “Et misericordias” from his Magnificat) they are all new compositions.

Although Carl Philipp composed his St. Matthew Passion (it  lasts about 100 minutes)  specifically for the church performances in Hamburg he presumably did not have the slightest idea at that time that Passion performances as part of the church service were not supposed to take more than an hour. He followed this rule in his later Passions.

Nevertheless, this Passion is much smaller compared to  his father’s, and not only in terms of length. It has no vocal or instrumental double chorus, but is drafted as a single-chorus piece (in the case of J.S. Bach’s dual turba choruses in his St. Matthew Passion, such as “Der du den Tempel” and “Andern hat er geholfen”, Carl Philipp got around it by having chorus I played by the instrumentalist ensemble). Also, he had only eight singers and sixteen to eighteen instrumentalists at his disposal.

Carl Philipp’s extended use of the pasticcio model raises questions about the originality of his Passion compositions. However, it needs to be
emphasised that each one of them maintains its own original character, mostly because he always substituted the madrigal movements in any new Passion with new ones he had drafted. No Passion was just plainly repeated from one year to the next. Unlike the twenty subsequent Passions, which were only performed in their respective years, the movements from the 1769 Passion lived on in his Passion Cantata Wq 233/H 766, which, unlike the 1769 Passion, was performed for many years in and far beyond Hamburg. This music, solely composed by Carl Philipp, was one of the most widely distributed and most frequently performed of all his works during his lifetime,  perhaps because in the second half of the 18th century,  oratorio Passions were generally considered antiquated and obsolete, while Passion oratorios enjoyed much great popularity. It is no coincidence that with the posthumous performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1789 (Carl Philipp had died the previous year), the tradition of oratorio Passions also came to an end in Hamburg.

The glowing performance in St. Nikolai’s Church on Friday evening, June 20, reflected dramatic theatre and musical beauty, with all  those undertones from which the also musically genetic connection between the father and the son clearly emerged. The Evangelist, the emotionally driven tenor Julian Podger, had to work himself through his role in almost overtime fashion (he has much more to say than in J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion), but his understanding of the text together with his agile expression caught everyone’s attention. His was not just a reporter’s role, as he stood there as a real human narrator who was emotionally engaged in what he was singing. The opulent bass voice of Tobias Scharfenberg (Jesus) did not assault the ear but emphasised musical depth, immersed in impressive restraint and clarity.  Another highlight was the chorus member Hermann Oswald in the various tenor soli. He mixed tragedy with wonder, indisputably a master in his different roles, perfectly adapting his voice to events as they unfolded. The Balthasar-Neuman Chorus and instrumentalists (two oboes, two flutes, two horns, two bassoons, timpani, strings and basso continuo) were all second to none, commandingly embracing the imaginative score and handling the high and low tessitura with impressive assurance. Choral virtuosity and articulation were embedded in the progressively dramatic course of events. There was that magical mix of mellow resonance and sharp definition. Conductor Ivor Bolton did not leave any doubt about his allegiance to Bach’s scoring. His detailing was just amazing, with superb shading and continuously pointing to well proportioned diction and dynamics, in well judged tempi. He presented the kind of brilliancy this a work needs and deserves, grasping and keeping the attention from start to finish. All were rewarded with loud and sustained cheers by a fully packed house.  



St. Nikolai’s Church: Ivor Bolton leads the Balthasar-Neumann Choir and Ensemble in the St. Matthew Passion by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
©Bach-Archiv Leipzig/Gert Mothes


The Goldberg Variations in the Gewandhaus

There is the frequently returning question about the instrument to be used in Bach’s Goldberg Variations, originally written for cembalo. The work was most probably intended to be the last part of Bach’s “Clavier-Übung”. Whatever the original preferences, many of us are familiar with stunning piano performances by for instance Glenn Gould, András Schiff, Murray Perahia and Angela Hewitt. For sure, Bach’s music does not collapse under the weighty tone of the grand piano.

Evgeni Koriolov (Moscow 1949, but living in Hamburg) is a pianist with many important prizes behind him, his repertoire ranging from Bach to Debussy, Messiaen and Webern. He is also active in chamber music, with partners like Natalia Gutman, Mischa Maisky, the Auryn and the Keller Quartets. He forms a piano duo with his wife Ljupa Hadzigeorgieva.

Late that evening, on Friday, June 20, just prior to Kiorolov’s appearance, part of the audience in the Mendelssohn hall of the Gewandhaus was more or less in turmoil. The recital was to be recorded on video for NHK in Japan, which required the use of dazzling lights mercilessly directed at the public. The opposition was loud and clear: “This is music for us, not for television,” and “We did not pay for this distraction.” It was all a little bit over the top as those lights were only to be turned on at just a few instances, at the beginning and at the end of the concert, to allow the camera team to make a few snapshots of the applauding audience in the otherwise dimmed concert hall. After this became clear, tranquillity returned.

Kiorolov finally appeared on the podium, the lights were dimmed and the recital began. He first disappointed in the very slowly paced 32 bars of the introductory aria, no matter how beautifully he moulded each and every note. He lingered too much, definitely trying to make as much as possible out of them. But when the first variation went off, his playing gained momentum, the music strictly kept within its own expressive boundaries. Kiorolov’s ability to unlash each variation’s specific character by way of tempo and touch made this a highly rewarding listening experience after all (the additional bonus: the great sounding Steinway Grand was perfectly tuned). His Bach resonated in a most idiomatic interpretation that did all justice to the incidentally very complex counterpoint, consistently underpinning the expressive nature of the music. Fresh and beguiling in the quick movements, finding the depths in the slow ones, with all the panache and proficiency one could possibly ask for. At the end,  after the 30th variation, Kiorolov repeated the aria in a slightly quicker tempo. Full circle in one of the greatest instrumental masterpieces of the 18th century.

Click Here for Part Three

Aart van der Wal 

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