I love music.

I write about the music I like and have purchased for the benefit of better understanding it and sharing my preferences with others.

Bach Cantatas - Ricercar Consort

Screen Shot 2013 03 24 at 12 29 51 AM This recording from 2009, directed by gambist Philippe Pierlot, features BWV 131, 182, and 4. I became interested in this ensemble afte purchasing a well-performed CD of Couperin (Apotheoses), and then seeing they are the featured "home" group this summer for the Thuringian Bach festival. They are each early works by Bach, and were included in Volumes 1-2 of Ton Koopman's traversal of the Bach cantatas. BWV 4 immediately arrests the ears, no matter who performs it, I am guessing. I still remember my experience of learning about this work in Alfred Mann's class entitled J.S. Bach at the Eastman School of Music. He put records on as we listened, and that was a very interesting way to get to know this music, not only hearing from a guy who had been living with these works for a very long time, but also in the milieu of some very interested and formidable musicians. BWV 131 was not one I'd really become familiar with, despite owning it on Koopman's cycle. Comparing Ricercar to ABO, the Amsterdam reading is lighter and cooler, tonally. There are differences to the approach; RC uses two continuo keyboards (a rather attractive organ with some reach in the bass register plus harpsichord. ABO uses a chamber organ; but ABO also uses a small choir positioned at a distance (that comes across as an echo choir against the bass soloist in the first Aria). RC uses 1/part registration for the singers. Despite not having a booklet (I purchased this digitally via iTunes), it sounds as if the orchestra is 1/part as well. The fourth number, a tenor aria with chorus, sounds very different. Koopman also takes it slower; the RC's approach at the start sounds more like an early Bach-family aria. In comparison to the ABO, the instruments are closer, and the singers are a little further off. Both "sound worlds" approached by the recording engineers work. They're simply different. While 131 has a seriousness to it with its minor mode, BWV 182 opens quite differently, with a happy "sonata" for instruments. ABO's recording treats the work very lightly and transparently, the opening sonata performed by violin and recorder. The same soloists are at play with the RC, but the basso continuo part carries far more weight, if not pushing the whole thing just slightly faster. But then the second number in "coro" is strikingly different; the ABO uses a multi-voice choir again, and RC is using soloists. My ears prefer the soloists, for reasons including the clearer diction and the more expressive single voices. The fourth number is a bass aria with violin obbligato. The RC benefits from that richer, deeper bass; the ABO benefits from a silkier approach to the lines, especially that of the lean basso continuo and solo violin. The tenor aria, the cantata's sixth number, is an interesting one for it's active bass line. ABO's reading makes the singing stand out far more, against a simpler backdrop, than the combination of organ and bowed bass with the RC. I think Koopman wins with his phrasing, although the dramatic level by the RC is hard to dispute. One of the things I really like about this newer recording from the Ricercar Consort is the sound quality--the last number from 182 benefits; the obbligato recorder is clear and articulate; with the ABO, there's considerable distance from both the violin and recorder from the microphone; we might even be fooled that a good number of the musicians are in a room removed from the microphones. While both sound nice, it's hard to compare the two, for the RC's recording is capturing a richer sonic picture by the group's closer proximity to microphones with less reverb from the setting's ambiance. As a bonus, Koopman provides two additional readings from BWv 182, an alternate reading of the sonata and two, the penultimate number. Koopman's rule of thumb was to offering alternate readings when Bach would later re-arrange some works. Back to the RC, my two favorite pieces on the recording are BWV 131 and BWV 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden. After hearing the Hilliard Ensemble perform this one with 1/part registration, I have a hard time going back. ABO offers alternate tracks, again. Compared to the Hilliards, I like their instruments which are more "out in front" in the recording. The first violin, especially, gets to own this one among all the instruments. For them placed further away, I do get, as a tradeoff, that rich RC basso continuo. They also read several of the tracks at a fast clip. Stereo separation among the performers is delightful both with headphones and speakers. If you already own versions of these cantatas by Bach, you'll be wondering if you need another copy or performance. I think this recording is very well done. So, yes, I think it's worth it. If it wasn't something significantly different or better than what came before it, I wouldn't feel the same way. This recording reminds me a lot of the one I've been very fond of by Akademia with 3 Bach cantatas. There are tonal similarities to the two recordings and the approach of using strong instrumentalists combined with strong vocal soloists with 1/part voicing is certainly where they two recordings share commonalities. I've always been happy with my Koopman cantatas, and I'm glad they were around for some comparisons. 14 years from one recording to the next has let us hear these early cantatas by Bach with a little more energy, perhaps, a revised performance practice with 1/part, and a different interpretation that carries equally, if not more compelling solutions to performance. Well-recommended. BWV 131 and BWV 4 have been in heavy rotation for the entire week. While car listening during a commute I typically prefer fast, more involved music (even music outside my preference for the Baroque), these cantatas have more than delivered. The deep-reaching bass offered by the RC is an especially nice treat when I have the opportunity to listen at home with very capable loudspeakers, offering even more dimension into the bass register.

Podger performed Vivaldi's La Cetra

Bach Violin Concertos