Archiv Productions was founded in Germany in 1945 as a subsidiary label of Deutsche Grammophon. It’s purpose was to record older music in performances authentic to the periods covered. DG has already issued a box of CDs that was an overview of Archiv’s entire history. Now they have a new box which focuses in on the label’s stereo analogue recordings, made between 1959 and 1981. I think they’ve done a splendid job at hitting all the highlights. Karl Richter’s Bach recordings are represented by one of the cantatas and the Magnificat. Richter recorded around 75 of the cantatas and his approach was admired for its vigor, precision, and strength. August Wenzinger recorded Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks using a large wind band without strings, the way Handel originally wrote it for the first performance. Trevor Pinnock’s recording of the Bach Orchestral Suites, one of the first of many that Pinnock made for Archiv is here, as is Telemann’s Der Getreue Music-Meister.
Remarkable recordings by Charles Mackerrs, Simon Preston, and Helmut Walcha are all here along with many surprises, all pleasant ones. Archiv producers not only took great care with the arts and repertory for the label but also with the recorded sound. Every CD in this magnificent set is state-of-the-art for its day and most still hold that title up to present time. Each disc is in a cardboard sleeve that duplicates, on a smaller scale, the original vinyl album art work. You can see that in the beginning, it was the cream colored, plain sleeves that were all alike except of the artists and compositions. The label later went to silver with color inserts alternating with full color bordered in silver. They are all beautifully reproduced for this set. There’s an informative booklet delineating the entire series, complete with period photographs of the artists.
There’s not a clunker in this elegant set; it should be a much demanded gift item for the holiday season coming up in six months. But it is so appealing that if you bought it now, you’d probably want to keep it yourself.
Stephen Paulus, who died suddenly weeks after this album was recorded in May of 2013, was one of America’s foremost composers. He was commissioned to write a tribute to 9/11 victims by True Concord Voices and Orchestra, Eric Holtan, Music Director, and Mrs. Dorothy Vanek, a staunch supporter of the performers. The resultant piece, Prayers and Remembrances, received its premiere in Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. The same forces perform on this new recording on Reference Recordings Fresh! series, which also contains other recent choral works by Paulus – Nunc dimittis, The Incomprehensible, I Have Called you By Name, Little Elegy, and When Music Sounds.
Prayers and Remembrances was written for chorus and orchestra, with a quartet of vocal soloists. It is in seven movements, with texts that were chosen from writings by Henry Vaughan, St. Francis of Assisi, Shelley, Williams Blake, and translations of Native American and Hebrew texts as well as one from Mohammed. Paulus set the texts with directness and care, often achieving transcendental moments of great beauty. The overall spirit is conciliatory, espousing hope through remembrance across many spiritual paths. I was especially moved by the setting of The Prayer of St. Francis and the a Capella anthem When Music Sounds to the verse of Walter de la Mare (“When music sounds, all that I was I am”). The performances are excellent and the recorded sound quite good. This disc is a must for every library of American music or for anyone who delights in hearing great verse beautifully set to music.
There are several good recordings of the complete Bach cantatas, works he wrote for performance at church services throughout the year. The cycles of Helmuth Rilling and Masaaki Suzuki come quickly to mind. Naxos Records is now offering yet another set, one that has some special qualities attached to it. The performances come from St. Gallen, Switzerland via the Bach-Stiftung, an organization set up to perform and record all of Bach’s vocal works, which includes over 200 cantatas as well as the passions and masses. The cantatas are being performed one per month in a unique manner. The cantata is performed, then a master class and discussion occurs, and after that the cantata is performed again. For the CD releases, the discussions are left out (though they may be experienced via European DVD releases) and three cantatas are portioned out per disc.
I found the performances in the first five volumes to be utterly convincing and thoroughly enjoyable. The conductor/organist is Rudolf Lutz, who has very firm feelings that each cantata should be approached as a separate work. That makes sense as the structure and scoring of each is quite unique. Lutz also shakes up the personnel. For some cantatas he uses just soloists and a string quartet or quintet, possibly with a wind instrument. For others he utilizes a small chorus and a slightly larger instrumental ensemble on up to including trumpets and drums, in sum whatever he feels is needed for the particular cantata. I find this approach very sensible and appealing; the ensemble seems perfectly tailored to the music. I don’t think Lutz has made one misstep in his approach. The singers and instrumentalists are all excellent and the recorded sound exemplary, rich and warm yet transparent and clear. The annotation for each CD is very thorough, presented in German and English. Volumes 1 – 12 are now available, the rest will be released over approximately the next 25 years. By the way, though the performances are live, the audience is exceptionally quiet and applause has been edited out, so these performances sound very like studio recordings, but with that extra spark that only live recording can supply.
Kristin Chenoweth hails from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma and that’s exactly where she rehearsed and performed her Coming Home DVD for Concord Records (available February 3). The pair of concerts took place in the theater named after her in the new Performing Arts Center in Broken Arrow. An ever present background set shows a small town street with “Broken Arrow” prominently displayed on the water tower. A fairly large orchestra occupies the back of the stage. During the first half of the show, Chenoweth is often at the front of the stage by herself, and it’s a stupefying wonder to see this 4’11” woman completely command and dominate that stage. She does it by having a phenomenal voice that can sing opera to Broadway coupled with a genuine charm that includes an attitude of gratitude. One simply believes in her. She can do it and we’re behind her, putty in her hands.
In the audience are her mother, father, and early voice teacher and on stage she includes the Broken Arrow High School Choir to end each part. You might guess from these facts that this was an emotional concert, and you’d be right. The finale to part one, “Upon This Rock,” with Kristin and the choir, is the kind of performance that will give you chills, and cause you heart to catch in your throat. You’ll want to cheer. I did. And that wasn’t the only time. Chenoweth has one of the most amazing voices on or off Broadway, but she’s also all heart. She puts 100 percent of herself into every song she sings, including “My Coloring Book,” “Bring Him Home,” “Maybe This Time,” “Popular,” All the Things You Are,” and the inspirational “I Was Here” which closes the show on the most upbeat note I’ve encountered in a solo concert, maybe forever. The camera work is good, the video definition exceptional for a DVD and the sound is just right. I love Judy, I love Barbra. Add Kristin to that short list. Her concert is as good as anything those esteemed ladies have done. Treat yourself to this amazing concert and watch your troubles disappear. [a soundtrack album is also available on CD]
Joan Baez released her first album in 1960. It was followed by three additional albums, and in 1966 came Noel, which still stands, nearly fifty years later, as one of the very best traditional holiday albums ever made. At the time, Vanguard Records had under its roof Peter Schickele, the creator of P. D. Q. Bach, and put him together with Baez to do the arrangements. It was a marriage made in heaven, one so perfect that Vanguard would keep the Schickele connection for the next two Baez albums.
This album finds Baez in terrific early voice, when her clear, light soprano seemed a miracle – completely pure and unfettered. She was a natural for such items as “I Wonder As I Wander,” “Down in Yon Forest.” “The Carol of the Birds,” and “Mary’s Wandering.” She also tackles “Ave Maria: and “Cantique de Noel,” two songs usually pounded to death by operatic sopranos, and finds a lighter side that works wonderfully well. There are some instrumental interludes from Schikele and the Orchestra that are thoroughly delightful , among them “Good King Wenceslas” and “Deck the Halls.” Schickele uses a lot of tinkly sounds in his clean and transparent orchestrations, from instruments like harp, harpsichord, and bells, so it is a good thing that recording is up to Vanguard’s usual high standard for the period. You can hear everything clearly and Baez and the instruments are in near perfect balance. You can buy the original album on vinyl or CD and there’s also a re-mastered CD with extra tracks.