Tag Archives: J. S. Bach

[39] Johann Sebastian Bach – Mass in B Minor

3 Jan

It hardly seems fair that the same mind that composed the huge Brandenburg Concertos, the tiny and complex solo violin pieces and the technical exploration of the Well Tempered Clavier should also be able to add the subtle shading of this vocal ensemble piece.

It is, in a word, beautiful.

Mass in B Minor

Mass in B Minor

 

 

For the most part this doesn’t sound like what I think of as “church music” which is probably a positive since my rare experiences in church have always tended towards the mournful dirge.

Usually I am eager to know the meaning behind the lyrics I listen to in a foreign language, but here I am certain that I am happier not knowing.  The music is eloquent enough without bringing religion into it . . .

The small choir of the Chorus and Orchestra of the Collegium Vocale keeps everything under control – no overreaching bombast or attempts to batter the senses.  Each performer knows their part in the whole and does exactly what is required, no more.

It is at times Operatic, and at moments the sound would not be out of place in a modern musical or move score – a testament to the reach and influence of Bach’s sound here?

Having discovered four magnificent pieces, and being unexpectedly willing and able to recommend them all, I am left wondering – what other Bach works might have been included in the 1,000, either instead of or as well as these.  What other joys am I missing?

I expect I’ll look for more Bach someday, but after 4 weeks of almost nothing but Bach (enjoyable and enlightening as it has undoubtedly been) I think I’ll take a break first.

80s Punk sounds like an excellent next step!

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 39. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 39. 10%)
Recommend? Yes. (33 of 39. 85%)

Next Week: Bad Brains – I Against I

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[38] Johann Sebastian Bach – The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1

27 Dec

My first impression of these piano snippets is of a collection of scales and exercises meant for an advanced student looking to improve their technique. Not so surprising since this is precisely what Bach has composed here, and how he used these pieces with his charges.

The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1

The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But even before I delve into the history of these pairs of Preludes and Fugues in every key, they begin to get under my skin, to capture my imagination with their variety, their small but perfectly formed structures. They are worlds apart from the complexities of Bach’s solo violin works, beautiful and distinct.

Austrian pianist, Till Fellner, plays with a warm, light touch and I find myself wanting to hear these sketches late at night as I drift away. The difference in approach between these solo pieces and Martha Argerich’s piano concertos is striking – an entirely different technique for an entirely different style of composition.

I certainly can’t fall asleep to Argerich’s passionate attack!

Still, the tunes and technique alone might not be enough to launch this recording into the Recommended column, but the story that goes along with the sounds highlights the importance beyond merely what is heard.

With this work, Bach may have helped codify the sound of music as we know it today.

The Well Tempered Clavier is his attempt to show the artistic possibilities for equal temperament tuning of the piano – ” which standardized intervals between pitches to make a uniform scale” – rather than the arguably more natural just intonation.

By any indication, he appears to have succeeded.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 38. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 38. 11%)
Recommend? Yes. (32 of 38. 84%)

Next Week: Johann Sebastian Bach – Mass In B Minor

[37] Johann Sebastian Bach – Complete Sonatas & Partitas For Solo Violin

20 Dec

It amazes me that these complex rhythms and melodies (and at times even harmonies) are the work of a single instrument, a single performer.

Arthur Grumiaux

Arthur Grumiaux

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all the sprightly acrobatics of The Brandenburg Concertos, Bach manages to cram even more complexity into these compositions. Whereas The Brandenburg provided a wall of sound to wallow in, these Sonatas and Partitas in contrast have only a pinprick, usually only a single note, to focus on at any moment.

The music here demands attention.

The level of skill required of anyone attempting to play these passages is daunting. To play them as flawlessly as Arthur Grumiaux does here is a phenomenal achievement, even before discovering that some of the notation, as originally written by Bach, appears physically impossible!

Just the level of endurance required to complete the variations (aptly called “Doubles”) of Partita #1 in B minor is mind-boggling.

Despite the obvious technically acumen on display, the music still manages to hit an occasional emotional chord, as in the opening of Sonata #2 in A minor when an overwhelming melancholy cuts through the ears and into the heart.

Or at least it did for me.

After the pace quickens again, the fast flowing melodies – played so cleanly on what is essentially a single note instrument – are breathtaking. So when chords and harmonies are sketched, or on occasion outright played, it takes the listener to another level.

Although intellectually this is all wonderful stuff – precise, purposeful, impressive – it is not exactly *fun*. I am unsure how often I will choose to listen again in future.

But listening to the entire two hours of music in one sitting, the sound begins to take on an otherworldly quality. The whole is somehow outside of the everyday.

If that’s not reason to hear it at least once in a lifetime, I don’t know what is.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 37. 5%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 37. 11%)
Recommend? Yes. (31 of 37. 84%)

Next Week: Johann Sebastian Bach – The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1

[36] Johann Sebastian Bach – The Brandenburg Concertos

13 Dec

Warm and sprightly.  Beautiful and relaxing.  These six piece form a very pleasing listening experience.

The Brandenburg Concertos

The Brandenburg Concertos

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the tunes themselves are not familiar, the style, the melodic acrobatics are welcome and comforting.  There is a little of the “background music” phenomenon I encountered with Cannonball Adderley, but it is an extremely enjoyable change of pace at my desk.

Each of the concertos has a different instrumentation which keeps the sound varied and interest high as I listen straight through these performances by the Concerto Italiano.

There is a different level of connection to these flowing constructs than I instinctively find with the visceral rock, jazz and blues recordings I discover on my blogging.  At once the connection is intellectual and somehow subliminal.  Feelings sketched out rather than clearly stated.

Classical music effects me in a different way – neither better nor worse, just different.

Did I say the tunes were unknown?  I mistated in one large and significant case.  The opening section of Concerto #5 is burned into my brain through its use in the at once highly entertaining and hugely educational Disney Junior show, Little Einsteins.

Each week four kids (a conductor, a dancer, a musician and a singer) travel through the world of a famous work of art while chasing a famous piece of music.  Bach’s piece here provides the soundtrack for a Birthday Machine, and I am unable to stop myself from singing the silly but catchy lyrics that the kids add to this classical tune:

“Round and round and turning turning turning turning clapping clapping up down.”

The piece also reminds me of my surprisingly strong affection for the sound of a harpsichord!

I am interested to compare and contrast how different these Concerto are to the next three recordings – also by Bach – that led Moon to include all four in his list of 1,000.  To date only John Adams has rated more than one album on the list – two pieces in two very different styles, one Classical, one Operatic, neither recommended.

Fingers crossed.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 36. 6%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 36. 11%)
Recommend? Yes. (30 of 36. 83%)

Next Week:  Johann Sebastian Bach – Complete Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin

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