When this recording was first offered for review by Naxos, I thought it was another small ensemble recording of J. S. Bach’s orchestral suites. Ah, but what a difference an initial makes. These are suites by J. B. Bach, Johann Bernhard Bach in full. On searching a bit further, one can find that J. B. was a second cousin of J. S. and thrived in Germany from 1676 to 1749. He was a highly regarded composer in his day. Most of his compositions have been lost, but the orchestral suites survive, in part because J. S. had them copied for his orchestra.
It is no wonder that the more famous Bach recognized his cousin’s talent. Sounding more akin to Telemann than any of the Bachs, these are vivacious works with good imagination, excellent melodies, and masterful orcehestration. The lively performances on a new Ricercar recording by the chamber ensemble L’Acheron, led by bassist Francois Joubert-Caillet make a good case for this music. The joyous performances are never less than appealing; I especially enjoyed the continuo swap-offs among harpsichord, guitar, and arhlute. The recrded sound is clean andcloseup, revealing every detail.
Les Concert des Nations was formed in 1989 by Catalan conductor and viola da gamba virtuoso Jordi Savall. It has established itself as one of the finest ensembles playing early music on period instruments and formed an alliance with the AliaVox label for which it has made numerous recordings. The latest partners with the La Capella Reial de Catalunya chorus and various soloists to present two Magnificats, one by Bach and the other by Vivaldi. Each choral work is preceded by a concerto by the same composer, specifically Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D Minor and Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Violins, Viola da Gamba and Continuo, RV 610. The choral works are live recordings performed at La Chappelle Royale du Chateau Versaillrs with its warm, reverberant acoustics.
Both Magnificats receive superb high energy performances with Savall choosing just right tempos throughout. The high point for me was the “Et misericordia” from the Bach, in which countertenor Damien Guillon and tenor David Munerloh produce sounds that can only be described as “sublime.” Good as the choral performances are, it is the definitive playing of the Bach harpsichord concerto that is the best on the disc. Soloist Pierre Hantai dazzles with his amazing technique but also moves one almost to tears with the beauty of his phrasing in the slower movement. The recording balance is perfect and the orchestra musicians seem totally inspired by Hantai’s playing. There is no better recording of this concerto on disc. The SACD sound throughout is spacious yet detailed. The disc is hybrid so has a CD layer, which is good but a little cramped when compared to the SACD. As icing on the cake, AliaVox has included a DVD disc with HD video images of the performers and a high quality PCM soundtrack, and provided its usual sumptuous artwork and pages from the original music manuscripts in a 206-page booklet.