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Todays series of proms marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the reformation concluded with John Butt and the Dunedin Consort performing Johann Sebastian Bach's St John Passion in its original liturgical context.

This isn't a new concept for the Dunedins: they released an excellent studio recording in 2013 which featured the same sequence of the pieces; a godsend when I was trying to puzzle out the identity of the organ piece preceeding the passion — it was Buxtehude's Prelude in F-sharp BuxWV146. In fact, the only really significant differences between the recorded version and tonight's performance, other than the expanded choral forces, was the decision to sing the congregational hymns in English — expecting an unprepared proms audience to sing in German was probably considered a little bit of a stretch — and Stephen Farr's addition of a muscular organ accompaniment to the final verse of Now thank we all our God to round the night off on a rousing note.

The performers were consistently excellent, with Nicholas Mulroy strikingly good as the evangelist and Matthew Brook, who I've raved about before, on fine, angry form as Jesus. The St John Passion, shorter and more intense than the contemplative St Matthew, makes a fine piece for the proms and the notion of getting the audience involved — John Butt apparently spent half an hour coaching them before the start of the performance — worked particularly well.

Another standout concert from the 2017 season.
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Before I leave JS Bach's Mass in B-minor, here's the first recording I bought: John Eliot Gardner's first version from the mid-80s. As Kenyon says, it's a bit frantic in places, but there's no doubting the commitment of the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir:

I used to listen to this every Sunday morning when I was a student as I waited for my laundry...
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Inspired by Saturday's episode of Building a Library on JS Bach's Mass in B-minor, two very different versions. The first is the Herbert von Karajan's take on the opening Kyrie:

The second is the entire piece courtesy of Concerto Copenhagen — Nick Kenyon's ultimate choice in his survey — in a one-voice-per-part version:

Each is lovely in its own way — I have both of them — and each seems to emphasize a different aspect of Bach's dazzling writing...
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Motivated by this morning's Record Review, which played excerpts from recent versions of some of Bach's cantatas for alto soloist — both Iestyn Davies and Phillipe Jarosky have new recordings out — here's an unashamedly old-school version of Widerstehe doch der Sünde BWV54.

The performer is Marga Höffgen accompanied the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Kurt Thomas — Bach's many-times-removed successor as Thomaskantor.
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For the first day of Christmas, what else can it be but Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage, the opening chorus to JS Bach's Christmas Oratorio.

The performers here are the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists under John Eliot Gardner.
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It's the first Sunday in Advent already, so here's JS Bach's cantata Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 62, written in 1724 during his second year in Leipzig.

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Almost through chance, I discovered that Maude Gratton, whose performances of Bach I'd very much enjoyed when they were coupled with Damien Guillon and La Banquet Céleste's performances of some of the cantatas — in which Gratton had played the organ obbligatos — has recorded performances of some of Bach's organ works from his time in Leipzig.

The pieces show the same thoughtful articulation, careful registration, and attention to detail that made the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor and the Trio Sonata No. 3 so engaging. By way of a taster, here's the Prelude in E-flat major from Clavier-Übung III:

The instrument used in this performance is the Silbermann organ of the Friedenskirche in Ponitz.
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A musical treat in the form of Daniel Roth playing JS Bach's Schübler chorale, Kommst du nun:

As a bonus it comes with a little introduction from M. Roth, who talks about his approach to the piece and how his sons tease him about his use of legato in Bach!
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A nice thing from this morning Breakfast on R3 in the shape of the gigue from the fifth of Bach's French Suites. They went with Anderszewski playing just the last movement but I can't resist András Schiff playing the entire suite:

With the office very noisy today — I now know far more than I really want to about the dental health of someone on the other side of the aisle — and with it being delivery day, I goofed off and went downstairs where I helped to prep some of the cables.

While I was down there, Sonja showed me a neat trick: how to write with both hands at the same time. When she did it, she reversed the writing in one direction, but when I did it, I wrote the same way with each hand. I suspect it may be because I write equally well — or, more honestly, equally badly — with either hand and being able to write backwards with one hand isn't really all that useful...
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Having finally finished backstitching my notes from Saturday's Bristolcon back into the blog, here's a bit of Bach to celebrate: it's a shamelessly romantic performance of the Dorian Toccata BWV538 — much less famous than the other one in D-minor — played on the organ of St Mary Radcliffe, the huge church close by where the convention was held:

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Listening again to Alina Ibragimova's amazing performances of Bach's sonatas and partitas for solo violin, I'm again struck by just how spellbinding they are. There's a real sense of risk and adventure, especially in the pianissimo sections, while the vast chaconne was all the more amazing given the decision to restart — something that seems to have been discreetly removed from the listen again version, which seems a shame.
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I'm utterly taken with Stefano Molardi's Bach recordings, which I discovered thanks to an edition of CD Review back in early April.

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Bit of a lost day today, so instead of anything original here's Ton Koopman playing JS Bach's Toccata, Adagio, and Fugue. The performance suffers a little from the acoustic of the St Jacobi Church in Hamburg, but Koopman's registration, phrasing and ornamentation in the adagio (starts at 5:20) are sublime:

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For no terribly good reason other, except that they're each extremely charming in their own way, three different takes on the same piece of music.

Firstly, the original: Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto in D-major for violin RV 230 from L'Estro Armonico, Op. 3, No. 9 performed by the Clarion Musical society:

Secondly, Johann Sebastian Bach's keyboard arrangement of Vivaldi's concerto BWV 972, performed here on the harpsichord by Richard Egarr:

Thirdly and finally, Alison Balsom's arrangement for trumpet and organ of Bach's arrangement. I liked this piece very much when I heard it as part of the RFH's Pulling Out All the Stops festival back in March — I particularly like the crispness of the tutti in the allegro and the conversation between the performers in the larghetto.

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Although it's Advent and not Whitsuntide, I can't resist the joy and delight of the tenor aria Kommt, eilet, stimmet Sait und Lieder from JS Bach's Cantata 74 Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten. Here's Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan with Makoto Sakurada taking the solo part:

Suzuki's upbeat approach feels more satisfactory, I think, than the slower version recorded by Leonhardt and Kurt Equiluz in late 70s...
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From Bach's Cantata 36, Schwingt freudig euch empor, for the first Sunday in Advent, the aria Auch mit gedämpften, schwachen Stimmen. The performers are the J.S. Bach Foundation of St Gallen, with Nuria Rial soprano and John Holloway playing the obbligato violin part.

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I make no apologies for posting a live performance by this year's musical crush — Le Banquet Céleste, Damien Guillon, and organist Maude Gratton — performing Bach's cantata 82, Ich habe genug, and cantata 170, Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust from the Abbeye aux Dames in Saintes:

They're every bit as good live as they are in their recording and it's a real treat to watch such a tight-knit group of performers in conversation with each other, especially in some of the the obbligato writing.
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John Eliot Gardiner is on a bit of role. The Guardian ran an In praise of... piece on him on on Friday, Saturday's Review carried Gardiner's own article on Bach, and today saw him overseeing a Bach marathon at the Albert Hall as part of R3's Baroque Spring event. Not a bad way to mark a significant birthday...

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Being Good Friday it can only be the St Matthew Passion, here in a 2010 performance given by Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Gent. Christophe Prégardien is the Evangelist, Tobias Berndt is Christ, while a superb cast of singers — including Damien Guillon & Matthew Brook — take the rest of the roles.

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It hasn't been a good week for classical music heroes: Van Cliburn and Wolfgang Sawallisch I knew about, but I'd managed to miss the sad news of Marie-Claire Alain's death until I heard about it on R3 this morning. So here, then, is Alain playing Bach's other D-minor toccata, the Dorian, BWV 538.

ETA: A link to Barry Millington's obit in the Guardian.


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