Bach: Cantatas and Arias (CD review)

Ian Bostridge, tenor; Fabio Biondi, Europa Galante. Virgin Veritas 7243-5-45420-2-2.

In the booklet insert Michel Roubinet emphasizes Bach's theme of death in the cantatas, which is a natural subject for religious and liturgical works, stressing as they do Man's continual struggle with mortal existence and his possible ultimate salvation in the afterlife. But Bach's music is anything but morbid or depressing.

The ten cantatas, excerpts, and arias sung on this disc by tenor Ian Bostridge are filled with hope and reassurance, and Ian Bostridge communicates them to us with a special joy. He is ably accompanied by the Italian group Europa Galante, led by Fabio Biondi. Although some people have criticized Biondi for his occasionally excessive zeal and breakneck tempos, here he provides the kind of Bach we're all familiar with, set to a mostly relaxed pace yet still done with much enthusiasm. Mainly, Biondi keeps his instrumental forces well out of the way of the solo singer, and Mr. Bostridge carries on admirably, with a firm, steady tenor voice of unflagging character and charm.

Ian Bostridge
The program includes the cantata "Ich habe genug" ("It is enough"), BWV 82a; the orchestral Sinfonia for orchestra, "Christ lag in Todesbanden," BWV 4; the Recitativo "Gott fahret auf mit Jauchzen," BWV 43; the cantata "Ich armer Mensch, ich Sundenknecht" ("Wretched that I am, a slave to sin"), BWV 55; the Sinfonia "Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fallt," BWV 18; and several other miscellaneous cantata movements, arias, and sinfonias.

Virgin Classics recorded the disc in a chapel in Parma, Italy in March of 2000. The audio has the distinction of sounding big, open, and reverberant in a wholly natural way, with no swamping of the voice or coloration of the instrumental textures in any way. One cannot say much of the front-to-back imaging, but there is a nice sense of surround ambiance in it, even without back speakers. The vocal parts are prominently forward of the orchestra yet not at the expense of losing the orchestral input altogether.

Drawbacks? Hardly. While I sensed a growing sameness about the music as the album wore on, that was no doubt just me, as I am not big on vocal music of any kind. Certainly, there was nothing routine about the performances, which are ideal in practically every way, or the sonics, which kept me attentive and entertained throughout. It's a fine album, all the way around.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa