Magnificence to the Fourth Power
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 03/31/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
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."
Magnificat, magnificat, magnificat, magnificat.
Marc Ruby? | Warren, MI USA | 01/23/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I intend to do intermittent reviews of this series of albums by the Bach Collegium Japan because I am more than pleased with the overall quality of the series. I'm singling out the Magnificat first because it is unusual to find Kuhnau, Zelenka and Bach conveniently combined on one album for comparison.
Johann Kuhnau is notable as Bach's predecessor in almost every position the composer held. At the least he was one of Bach's mentors - At the most a strong influence. He has a somewhat more delicate style than Bach does, but his music captivating, and well worth listening to. Jan Dismas Zelenka was Bach's Catholic contemporary in Dresden. Both held similar appointments to the court and were well acquainted if not actually friends. Of the two, Zalenka was the more original, but was far less prolific than Bach. Again, well worth audition. The listener will find that all of these Magnificats stand on their own, demonstrated the beadth of creative music in what was a geographically small over a narrow time period.
Years ago I formed the opinion that Japanese orchestras rarely 'got' western music and have sat in that state of prejudice for years on end. Of course, I was being foolish and close-minded. If there is a set of records destined to prove me wrong it is these, which are far closer to what I want to hear from Bach's music than many western orchestras with their endless squabbling over tempo and instrumentation. Suzuki rediscovers a great deal of the sensuality hidden in Bach's work, and the soloists and orchestra rise to the task admirably. Listen and be surprised!"