Bach’s St. John Passion with a star-studded lineup of soprano Johennette Zomer, countertenor Andreas Scholl, tenor MLike Koopman's reading of the St Matthew Passion last year, this is an intimate, if occasionally idiosyncratic, account. His understanding and shaping of the structure of the work produce powerful results, while an intuitive sense of pacing means the more contemplative sections serve to heighten the main dramatic narrative, rather than interrupt it. Koopman also achieves a sensitive balance between voices and instruments, so that the solo singers become very much part of the contrapuntal texture, and the instrumental parts are given due focus.
Together with Johann Adolf Hasse, Carl Heinrich Graun was the chief representative of Italian Opera in Germany in the 18th century. The story of »Montezuma« accords with the historical fate of the last ruler of the Aztecs. The text is by King Frederick II, Graun had a close friendship to him and became chief of the circle of Berlin composers. »Montezuma« can be seen as Frederick’s countersignature to his own fate, which made him into a martial war-prince. »Montezuma« shows him in a field of tension: thus the artistically-minded idealistic prince became the royal practical politician: if justice is to be seen to be done to life’s reality, Montezuma must die. Montezuma is mor than just a Baroque opera. This opera can allude to the history of its own nation. It directs our ear to the destiny of America and the destiny of Prussia, to the German’s view, 200 years ago, of America, and American history as the mirror of its own.
As before with the St. Matthew Passion, star director Peter Sellars succeeded in creating a staging which made the spiritual and dramatic content of the Passion story even more intensive. The New York Times also praised the “brilliant and energetic” playing of the orchestra, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the “haunting, almost unsurpassable singing of all those involved.”
The music recorded here encompasses a period of around a hundred years. The earliest works come from the time around 1600, which is considered one of the most profound watersheds in musical history. The new expressiveness unleashed above all by Monteverdi’s music was at the same time also potent in the increasingly independent instrumental music. This development is directly connected with the emancipation of the violin and its marvelous cantabile and virtuoso possibilities. When the composers started to make the individual sections of the ricercar into independent contrasting movements, and accordingly separated them from each other also in terms of tempo, the transition to a cyclical manner of formation, that is to say, to a stringing together of independent movements, was initiated and a meaningful musical organization adopted as a maxim.
A classic returns! Carlos Kleiber reportedly suffers from such nerves that he rarely manages the fortitude necessary to commit his interpretive thoughts to disc. That makes every one of his all too few recordings special, and this is no exception. Kleiber's Brahms is straightforward, rock steady, and superbly played. There are many versions of this symphony that feature more emphatic highlights and individual features, but few have the sort of cumulative power that carries right up to the last note. This one does. Kleiber's architectural grasp is especially evident in the finale, which, as a series of variations over a repeated bass line, is in itself a type of musical architecture. An unforgettable experience.
Harnoncourt hat mit dieser wunderbaren Aufnahme etwas nicht nur Ergreifendes, sondern auch ganz Wunderbares geschaffen. Die Johannes-Passion, die ja viel dramatischer ist als die vier Jahre später entstandene Matthäus-Passion, interpretiert er so packend und mitreißend, dass einem besonders bei den "Turbae"-Chören eine Gänsehaut über den Rücken läuft.