Recording of the Month: July 2015

Apparently Mozart didn’t much like the flute. Apparently Calvin Bowman doesn’t much like Mozart. But Bowman loves JS Bach – as do Elena Kats-Chernin and Genevieve Lacey. What are we to make of this love-hate recording?

Bach’s two-part Inventions are, like the three-part Sinfonias, staples of the (advanced) student piano repertoire. Kats-Chernin’s six (a classic Bachian number) Re-inventions came about as she and Lacey were exploring different recorders, just jamming, when, as Kats-Chernin recounts in the booklet notes, “a bit of a Bach Invention showed itself in one of the figurations that we improvised with. And suddenly this idea presented itself – to base the piece on Bach Inventions.”

An organist himself, Calvin Bowman’s sensitive transcription for string quartet of Bach’s chorale prelude O Mensch, Bewein’ dein’ Sünder Gross (O mortal, weep for your great sin) BWV622 from the Little Organ Book is neatly balanced by his transcription for the same forces of the tenor aria Seht, was die Liebe Tut (Behold what Love does) from Bach’s cantata BWV85 Ich bin ein Gutter Hirt (I am a Good Shepherd).

“The musicians play with a mix of delight in their own virtuosity and reverence”

The two Mozart flute quartets here – one in D, the other in C – were commissioned by Ferdinand De Jean, among other things a wealthy amateur flautist. Bowman’s two-movement Homage to Mozart was similarly commissioned by the Flinders Quartet.

Listen from start to finish. You’ll find affection powering invention and aversion broken down in the same way that a motif is analysed into its constituent parts before being developed. Metamorphosis lies at the heart of both and all is reconciled.

That’s why Kats-Chernin’s Re-invention No 1 for descant recorder and string quartet, based on Bach’s Invention No 8 in F, effuses such unalloyed delight, or why her Re-invention No 4 for tenor recorder and string quartet, based on Bach’s Invention No 1 in C, takes on a darker, melancholic quality at odds with the keyboard original.

That’s why Bowman’s Bach transcriptions have a haunting, Brahmsian quality which declares the works’ kinship with the exquisite slow ‘introduction’ to Homage to Mozart’s witty spot-the-musical-quote second movement, or why the two Mozart flute quartets – here played on recorder – exhibit every bit as much charm, craftsmanship and sheer genius as his works for clarinet, an instrument Mozart adored.

Finally, that’s why Lacey and the Flinders Quartet play these works with such a beguiling mixture of delight in their own virtuosity and reverence, not only for Bach and Mozart’s own elaborations on what has gone before them but Kats-Chernin and Bowman’s reinventing the past. What’s not to like?

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Composer Elena Kats-Chernin and recordist Genevieve Lacey spoke to us about reinventing Bach’s Inventions

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