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Tony Way

Bach: Celebratory Cantatas (Bach Collegium Japan/Suzuki)

Masaaki Suzuki and Bach Collegium Japan have never been content to rest on their considerable laurels. Having completed the Herculean task of recording all of Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred cantatas in 2013, they have continued to explore the master’s diverse range of secular cantatas, arriving at this volume of celebratory works.

Monteverdi: The Other Vespers (I Fagiolini/Hollingworth)

Robert Hollingworth has, with customary thought and flair, thrown his little beans (I Fagiolini) into an interesting musical salad to honour Monteverdi’s 450th birthday and his own group’s 30th. His starting point is the only contemporary account of Monteverdi conducting Vespers: a Dutch tourist espied the maestro working away from St Mark’s on June 24, 1620 (the feast of the birth of St John the Baptist).

Dvořák: Stabat Mater (Czech Philharmonic/Bělohlávek)

Like encountering some extraordinary Pietà, listening to Dvořák's grandiose evocation of Mary at the foot of the Cross leaves a lasting impression on the imagination. Written at a time when the composer was finally gaining recognition, it was to be the best and the worst of times. To have lost one child (as Dvořák did in 1875) was tragedy enough, but to lose his remaining two children the following year would have been more than most parents could bear.

Bach: St John Passion (Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski)

Great respect has characterised Marc Minkowski’s decision to allow some 30 years of his career to pass before recording the St John. In choosing to use only eight singers he is at pains to create an intimate but intense reading of this most powerful work. This performance is based on the original 1724 version, but appends two arias from the revisions Bach made a year later, as well as employing later additions to the original orchestration (contrabassoon and theorbo) and a harpsichord in the continuo.

Josquin: Missi Di Dadi, Missa Une Mousse de Biscaye (The Tallis Scholars/Peter Phillips)

Move over John Cage and Henry Cowell. Chance music, it seems, existed long before last century. How surprising and intriguing to discover that the roll of the dice may well have determined the compositional method of a Mass that could have been written by the great polyphonist, Josquin des Prés. (Josquin was employed by the Sforza family, some of the biggest gamblers in 15th-century Milan.)

Giaches de Wert: Sacred Motets (Stile Antico)

In his day, Giaches de Wert (1535-96) was the foremost composer of madrigals, most notably serving in the musically progressive Gonzaga court at Mantua and influencing the young Monteverdi. He had a considerable 12 books of madrigals to his name. What is less well known is that he also produced three books of motets which also display his madrigalian prowess. Many of the texts he set were not standard liturgical texts, but rather biblical stories that lent themselves to more programmatic treatment.

Pergolesi & Bach: Stabat Mater, Cantatas (Lucy Crowe, Tim Mead, La Nuova Musica/David Bates)

Hot on the heels of Iestyn Davies’ distinguished recording of Bach alto cantatas comes another disc containing two of the same from another British countertenor. Tim Mead, a former choral scholar of King’s College, Cambridge has forged a busy and successful career on the operatic and concert stage.


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