The World of Compact Discs

Article excerpt

THIS year marks the 250th anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach and recording companies, ever anxious for advertising potential, are pouring out compact discs of his works. High among the many valuable series of complete recordings that HYPERION produce is a comprehensive survey of Bach's organ works. We have had occasion in past columns to praise the dazzling performances by Christopher Herrick. Naturally many of these works are familiar, some to the general listener and others to informed students of Bach. However many of the works in The Neumeister Chorales [CDA 67215] will be a revelation to both types of listeners for this draws upon the manuscripts collected by Gottfried Neumeister and discovered in Yale University Library by Professor Christoph Wolff in the mid-1980s.

These three dozen works date from the first decade of the eighteenth century, at the time that Bach was establishing his reputation as an organist. Christopher Herrick brings both authority and elegance to his playing of these welcome discoveries on the organ of the Stadtkirche in the Swiss city of Zofingen. Bach's deep Christian faith and his mastery of composition are well seen in this music. The introduction by Stephen Westrop makes the unusual, but sensible suggestion, regarding which tracks a new listener should try first. Would that other collections would adopt this practice. For anyone anxious to discover some new Bach for this anniversary, this Hyperion CD is an excellent choice.

It is all too easy to see a musical colossus such as Bach or Mozart as a towering peak removed from the lesser mountains that were their contemporaries. Yet to appreciate genius, one must set it against talent. Heinrich Biber (1644-1704) was an established violinist and composer when Bach's career began and his life ended just as Bach was writing the works in the Neumeister Chorales. Hyperion has now reissued on its bargain label HELIOS [CDH55041] Sonatae Tam Aris, Quam Aulis Servientes, a collection of twelve sonatas for trumpets, strings, timpani and continuo. Here we have The Parley of Instruments under Roy Goodman (who plays the violin) and Peter Holman (who performs on various keyboard instruments). Baroque music like this requires a distinguished ensemble with virtuosi performers. It is enough to say that this recording features Crispian Steele-Perkins on the natural trumpet to show what an accomplished group is assembled here. This is a welcome re-issue.

Vivaldi was seven years older than Bach and died almost ten years before him. No composer has gained more from recorded music than Vivaldi, but now that his music has become virtually ubiquitous even on those abominable answering machines, his reputation needs to be rescued from the purveyors of aural wallpaper. Listeners who would like to enhance their enjoyment of Vivaldi's music, would be well advised to acquire Concerti Della Natura [ERATO 8573-80225-2] in which the Italian group, Sonatori de la Gioiosa Marca, perform seven of his works which describe aspects of nature from the beguiling La Notte to the well known violin concerto, Il Rosignuolo. The spirited playing of this group of six string virtuosi and the outstanding harpsichordist, Gianpietro Rosato, makes one see why this later work about the nightingale made it the most popular of Vivaldi's works in eighteenth century London. Perhaps one could call it 'A Nightingale Sang in St Mark's Square'.

The current recording catalogues groan under the weight of complete sets of Beethoven's nine symphonies, ranging from historic performances such as those of Bruno Walter to the von Karajan ones that set the standard for so many listeners. TELDEC -- who already have a splendid set done by Harnoncourt and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe -- have brought out a new set with the Berliner Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim. The six-disc set, Beethoven: The Symphonies [Teldec, 3984-27838-2] is firmly in the Germanic tradition of Beethoven performances and makes little concession to the fashionable practices of the period instrument devotees. …