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Best Recordings of 2013 (#8)

High time for a review of classical CDs that were outstanding in 2013. My lists for the previous years: 2012, 2011, (2011 – “Almost”), 2010, (2010 – “Almost”), 2009, (2009 – “Almost”), 2008, (2008 - "Almost") 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

# 8 - New Release

Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantatas BWV 30, 69, 191 (Volume 55), Bach Collegium Japan, Masaaki Suzuki (director), BIS SACD 2031

available at Amazon
Cantatas v. 55
M.Suzuki / Bach Collegium Japan

Lobet den Herrn, Meine Seele (Praise the Lord, my Soul, BWV 69) and Freue Dich, erlste Schar (Rejoice, you flock redeemed, BWV 30) are the two cantatas that are included on the last installment of Masaaki Suzuki’s Bach Cantata cycle. You could read something into that: gratitude and rejoicing brought to bear in the first cantata, a bit of cheekiness in the second title as the group has completed its nearly two-decade project. The disc is rounded out with pure praise as befits the project: the Gloria in excelsis Deo BWV191—music for Christmas Day and/or the Treaty of Dresden.

What comes to a very happy conclusion is nothing less than the far and away finest, most dedicated Bach Cantata cycle that a label started and actually pulled through with and brought to fruition*—through all the changes and upheavals that the classical music record industry has endured over the last 18 years! It is a testament to the dedication of BIS, the devotion of Suzuki and his fellow artists, and the glorious (if also ever precarious) state of the classical music industry.

Happily the conclusion is as glorious a celebration as the project deserves. Out of the box, Suzuki & Co. are their explosive self. This hasn’t changed that much over the last 18 years, but the innate coherence and musicality that has been invariably part of the last two-dozen or so releases ( which had not been so consistently present in all the earlier releases) gives it irresistible appeal. His singers—regulars Hana Blažíková, Robin Blaze, Gerd Türk, and Peter Kooij—bring their usual high standards to the three works.

For those who like the spunk of Sigiswald Kuijken’s One-Year cycle in their complete Cantata survey, fleet tempi, bright playing, accuratezza, and glorious, well-nourished choruses and chorales, Suzuki is the go-to choice as a whole. For those who are into certain singers—Carolyn Sampson(!!!), Gerd Türk, Dorothee Mields among them—the late releases are ideal for picking favorites and raisins out of the lot.

# 8 – Reissue

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Gran Partita K.361, Sérénade No.12 K.388, Harmonie de l’Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Philippe Herreweghe (conductor), Harmonia Mundi 501570

available at Amazon
W.A. Mozart, Gran Partita,
Sérénade No.12

P.Herreweghe / H.d.l’O.d.Champs-Élysées
Harmonia Mundi

Harmonia Mundi has been busy re-releasing a slew of favorite recordings of mine, including this splendid recording of Mozart’s Grand Partita. The Serenade No.10, K.361 is very, very beautiful but also got a bit very grand in the process. Especially when listened to as never intended: in serious context, in one uninterrupted, dedicated sitting, it’s not that easy to stay focused or even delighted for the whole 50 to 60 minutes a performance will take. That is, after all, very considerably longer than any of Mozart’s Symphonies.

Few make that act so easy and desirable as Philippe Herreweghe and his Harmonie de l’Orchestre des Champs-Élysées. Lively, chattering, rambunctious, and happily chugging along, spirits are high at all times, the Menuettos don’t grow tedious, and the slow movements never dawdle. Herreweghe throws in the Serenade No.12, K.388. Sometimes called “Nacht Musique”, it is not to be mistaken with the next—also short—Serenade No.13, K.525, the famous “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. It’s less overplayed and just as much fun.

-> Best Recordings of 2013 #10
-> Best Recordings of 2013 #9

* Ton Koopman and John Elliot Gardiner, exemplary cycles both, were unceremoniously dumped by their original labels, Erato and DG/Archiv respectively, and had to finish by founding their own labels to get the job done. Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Gustav Leonhardt’s cycle was pioneering, trail-blazing stuff, but not executed with the perfectionism of the Bach Collegium Japan’s forces. Pieter Jan Leusink’s Brilliant cycle is remarkable and admirable, but comparatively a hot-stitched patchwork. Helmut Rilling’s early cycle, the raison d’etre of the Hänssler label, comes closest to the single-minded dedication of the BIS project.