BACH: Cantata 30: "Rejoice, Legion of the Redeemed." Edith Mathis, soprano; Ann Reynolds, alto; Peter Schreier, tenor; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, bass. Munich Bach Chorus and Orchestra; Karl Richter, conductor (Archiv 2533 330). On first hearing, the traits that single out this work among Bach's more than 200 cantatas are its mood and its dimensions. This is the music of Bach the (qualified) Euphoric. It is dominated by three exultant choruses, not unlike those of Bach's only contemporary peer, Handel. And though the work was written more than halfway through Bach's 27 years as, in effect, music director for the churches of Leipzig, it hearkens back in musical spirit to the superb Magnificat he wrote for his first Christmas in that position.
Its length is, surprisingly, greater than that of the Magnificat - 40 minutes, compared with the earlier work's 36 (in the Bernstein recordings. And, aside from the choruses, the structure is quite different. There are no ensembles, only five solo recitatives and four solo arias. The poor tenor doesn't get an aira at all and Fischer-Dieskau gets two of each, which may help explain the relish with which he throws himself into the music, Bravura runs and all.
This is a composition where the message lies more in the music than in the words. The music was actually first written to a secular text and then reset to a church text a year later to give Bach something to play on the feast day of John the Baptist. Though not banal, the words are merely serviceable. Syllable and notes are not inextricably matched because the notes are so much better.
Listen, for instance, to the brilliance of the trumpets and drums against the chorus, with a string backdrop; to the heady buoyancy of the bass's arias; to the minor note accidental that pops up in the long flowing flute and violin theme in the alto aria (with its jarring effect that reminds us that life is not always so flowing, it is a sort of 18th-century equivalent of jazz's "blue" note) and, conversely, to the shafts of harmonic sunshine that Bach lets shine occasionally through the bass's otherwise relentless second aria.
The performance is harder to judge. The only rival, part of Harnoncourt's Bach cantata series on Telefunken, was unobtainable, as was a score. Certainly one could not expect to hear the choruses sung with more thrust and conviction. Several times, one sensed that the solo arias could have been handled with greater dramatic intensity. But one does not suggest such a quibble as areson not to buy this version of a composition whose obscurity is a trick of fate that should be reversed.
DVORAK: Overtures: Amid Nature, Carnival, Othello and Hussitska. Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Rafael Kubelik, conductor (Deutsche Grammophon 25.30 78.5). Of course, one thought one knew the Curniral Overture. Arthur Fiedler and public television have seen to that. But until this record arrived, the Carniral in context was unknown to me - as the middle work in a trio of overtures (the first three listed above), written by Dvorak at the peak of his powers, that share a common leitmotif and have deliberate juxtapositions of mood.
Considered as a trilogy they are of symphonic length, about 36 minutes. And as music, they belong in the radiant Dvorak chronology just where they are two years older than the refulgently melodious G major Symphony and two years younger than the last, the New World. They share some of those lofty works' most characteristic devices: sudden shifts (in one step) into the minor from the seemingly confident major, brass fanfares that soar rather than surge: and a general tilt toward using instruments lyrically in high registers. All of this means a lightness of texture and allows an exuberant air of spontaneity.
Conductors should be encouraged to perform the three overtures as a unit as the second part of symphony programs. The liner notes aptly describe them as a combined "pastorale, scherzo and finale." They are also described in programmatic terms: "nature, life and love." Either may they are inordinately effective; I, for one, know of nothing quite comparable to them in character. The Othello is not a precise rendering of its subject, but is an eloquent, more generalized, depiction of love turned to disaster. The Husitska, a somewhat earlier piece, is full of sounds that seem to anticipate Janacek and reflect the more jagged Smetana.
One leaves discussion of the performances as an afterthought only because Kubelik's Dvorak, with its mellow balance between scintillation and song, is one of the notable musical things we have going for us thes days, as this record demonstrates.
KREISLER: Selected Transcriptions for Violin, Itzhak Perlman, violin; Samuel Sanders, piano (Angel S 37254). To list the 10 violin transcriptions on this disc as a precede to a review would take up more space than is left now to say anything about it. The range is from a simple but artful translation of the "Londonderry Air" to the almost 15 minutes of music in which the ormost violinist of the first half of our century made Tartini's 18th-century's Devil's Trill even more devilish by transcription.
This kind of music - call it "parlor performances" or "encore pieces" - doesn't work without considerable precision and panache. For this just listen to the consummately Victorian "Midnight Bells" from Heuberger's The Opera Ball, which Kreisler himself helped compose. The full tone and the rubato recall Kreisler the performer.
Violin playing seems to be moving back into the Kreisler mold, but not at expenses of the purity and discipline of the last few decades. Hear, for example, the slight portamento of the introduction of the Tartini, or listen to the steely assurance of the the first statement of the main the me. Heifetz himself should hope to sound so well.
Incidentally, a grand - though grandly schmaltzy - example of th eold style has recently been reissued, with Kreisler works being played by his contemporary, Mischa Elman. I wouldn't want to go quite this far back to the old style (Kreisler himself wasn't so self-indulgent), but it certainly generates excitement. The record is Vanguard Everyman SRV-367 SD.