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Reviews

Laurence Vittes reviews ‘Wild Songs’ from Innova: ‘Heitzeg and Laitman are attentive to the intimate, hidden beauties implicit in writing music for friends’ REVIEW ON PAGE XIII

JS Bach Goldberg Variations, BWV988 Takae Ohnishi hpd Bridge F BRIDGE9357 (75’ • DDD)

SOUNDS OF AMERICA

Ken Smith on Lieder by Lowell Liebermann: ‘He has fully assimilated the heritage of his ancestors but his viewpoint lies comfortably across the Atlantic’ REVIEW ON PAGE XIII

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San Diego lecturer Ohnishi with harpsichord Goldbergs The recording catalogue so brims with distinctive versions of Bach’s Goldberg Variations – variations on the variations, you might say – that a listener can readily bask in the mutability of incandescent music. Whether performed on harpsichord or piano (or even in arrangements for other solo instruments and ensembles), the work’s vast expressive world welcomes a panoply of approaches.

Harpsichordist Takae Ohnishi makes a splendid case for historical devotion on her new disc of the Aria and 30 variations. The performance is at once sprightly and probing, marked by meticulous attention to ornamental figures and tempi that allow the dance or poetic aspects to come across with utmost lucidity.

The percussive nature of the harpsichord leads some interpreters to employ an overload of accents and staccato-like gestures. Pianists often go to the opposite extreme by smoothing out lines to the point of monotonous shapelessness. Ohnishi finds a fine balance between these polarities. Her sense of sonority is crystalline without verging into clipped routine. She connects phrases in ways that illuminate structure and harmonic implication. The inventive genius of the canons can be heard in all their compositional glory. The more introspective variations, such as No 25 (the so-called ‘Black Pearl’, in Wanda Landowska’s words), receive touching and articulate consideration.

The recording places the harpsichord in close proximity without suggesting that the microphones are doing surgery. More importantly, Ohnishi’s brilliant artistry immerses the listener in the creative and emotional narratives Bach unfolds with incomparable mastery. Donald Rosenberg

Big Bach: Greg Funfgeld conducts the St John Passion in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

JS Bach St John Passion, BWV245 Charles Daniels ten Evangelist William Sharp bass-bar Christus Julia Doyle sop Daniel Taylor counterten Benjamin Butter ield ten Christòpheren Nomura, David Newman bars Bach Choir of Bethlehem; Bach Festival Orchestra / Greg Funfgeld Analekta F b AN2 9890 (110’ • DDD)

Funfgeld’s big, old choir anchors the St John Passion The handsome account of Bach’s St John Passion on this new release confirms that the Bach Choir of Bethlehem doesn’t rest on anything resembling laurels. As the oldest Bach choir in the United States, dating to 1891, the ensemble has explored a large portion of the composer’s choral works, including the oratorios, and paid heed to research and performance practices of the early music movement. Although the

Bethlehem choir comprises 100 members, many times more than Bach used or current practitioners tend to employ, artistic director Greg Fungfeld has trained his singers to articulate words crisply, dance lightly when the music must move and blend elegantly, as in the chorales. The numerous dramatic moments throughout St John Passion call for the chorus to serve as a crucial character in the story and the Bethlehem contingent rises to the occasion, especially when the plot against Jesus becomes fierce.

Fungfeld brings a sure sense of phrasing, texture and pacing to the narrative, and the Bach Festival Orchestra – mostly modern instruments, with viola da gamba, violas d’amore and portative organ supplying period flavours – are cohesive and nimble.

The various obbligato duties are handled with supple assurance, notably the plummy oboes and, in ‘Es ist vollbracht’, Mollie Glazer’s eloquent viola da gamba, and the continuo players are first-rate. Of the gramophone.co.uk

GRAMOPHONE NOVEMBER 2012 IX