Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In Review--The Bach Cure

Philippe Herreweghe and Collegium Vocale Ghent
J.S. Bach's Jesu, deine Passion
Harmonia Mundi

Richard Egarr and Academy of Ancient Music

J. S. Bach Bradenburg Concertos
Harmonia Mundi

Just in time for the Lent season, Harmonia Mundi released J.S. Bach's Jesu deine Passion (Cantatas BWV 22, 23, 127 and 159). Similar to Handel's Messiah, these cantatas focus on the passion of Christ and performances of the cantatas commemorated the Lent/Easter calendar. You will also find gorgeous arias sung by soprano (Dorothee Mields), alto (Matthew White), tenor (Jan Kobow) and bass (Peter Kooy). And these arias are backed by baroque instruments.

The CD booklet explores the history behind the cantatas and provides translation of the arias in several languages. You will also find biographical information of the conductor, the choir, instrumentalists, and soloists.

The cantatas set a somber atmosphere, especially in comparison to the Brandenburg Concertos also reviewed here. The recording provides beautiful contemplative music for Christians and baroque music enthusiasts to engage the passion of Christ. It would be a real challenge to avoid the Christian element when listening to the recording even if a listener just wanted to immerse him or herself in the music of J.S. Bach. The recording does have a church-like atmosphere and it might seem melancholic to some listeners. However, I am a non-Christian who is open minded and can enjoy sacred music from various religious traditions. I find the cantatas melancholic, contemplative and gorgeous.

I am not sure that I would say that the music of J.S. Bach cures the common cold. However, listening to the Brandenburg Concertos did temporarily cease my coughing spells when nothing else seemed to do the trick. Perhaps the lower range of the instruments opened up my heart and throat chakras or that the beauty of the music induced me into a state of calm. Only a psychoacoustic expert could attain the connection between the recording, Bach Brandenburg Concertos performed by Richard Egarr and the Ancient Music Academy and my current state of health.

In general I have found the music of J.S. Bach to be healing for a lot of ailments and disorders ranging from stress, depression, anxiety to writer's blocks. I have read articles where music academics and even sound healers have commented on the mathematical perfection of Bach's compositions, Brandenburg Concertos are no exception. Sound healers usually include J.S. Bach's repertoire at the top of their healing music lists and even dogs with behavioral problems have responded well to Bach's music.

On Egarr's latest recording, Brandenburg Concertos, the musicians not only perform on baroque period instruments, but they also perform the French pitch (which is lower than standard pitch). Horns are modified, and woodwind players performed on French baroque instruments. The 6 concertos on the 2-CD recording feature some instrumental solos, harpsichord on Concerto #5, a horn solo on Concerto #2, and you will also hear good use and arrangement of recorders, violins, baroque strings and woodwinds.

The most remarkable aspect of the concertos is that they were hidden away in the Brandenburg Castle and not included in the J.S. Bach catalogue compiled by Bach's son. It seems inconceivable today that these concertos with their lush arrangements, delightful solos and mathematical perfection would be stashed away, only to be discovered in a later era. In any case, Egarr and the Academy of Ancient music do a great justice to these forgotten concertos. And whether or not the concertos cure a coughing spell should not deter Bach enthusiasts from adding this one to their baroque collection. The concertos are healing nonetheless and certainly listening to them at bedtime brings on restful and joyful sleep.

Richard Egarr and the Academy of Ancient Music are touring North America. For more information visit Harmonia Mundi's website. Performances include Vancouver (Canada), Seattle, Portland (Oregon), various Californian locations and other cities.