Bach’s “Easter Oratorio”: A Celebratory Retrofit

J.S. Bach’s Easter Oratorio was first performed at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig on Easter Sunday, 1725. But most of this music was not written with Easter in mind. Instead, it was recycled from the now lost secular “Shepherd Cantata,” written a month earlier to celebrate the thirty-first birthday of Bach’s patron, Christian, Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels. A year later, Bach recycled the cantata again for the birthday of Count Joachim Friedrich von Flemming. The Easter Oratorio opens with an …

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New Release: Augustin Hadelich Plays Paganini’s 24 Caprices

Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices, written between 1802 and 1817, are spectacular feats of daredevil virtuosity. With an unabashed bravura, they push the violin toward its technical limits. But Augustin Hadelich’s newest album reveals the drama, humor, and sunny Bel Canto tunefulness which is the true essence of this music. In a recent interview, Hadelich said, When Paganini performed, men and women often wept and fainted, not necessarily because they were dazzled by his virtuosic …

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Two Views of Couperin

The music of François Couperin (1668-1733) takes centerstage in this month’s release from the Four Nations Ensemble. This is the fourth installment of the early music group’s new educational initiative, the Concise Dictionary of Music. Harpsichordist Andrew Appel performs Couperin’s Septieme Ordre from Book II of Pieces de Clavecin (1717). In the program notes Appel writes, The Septieme Ordre presents itself as an exhibit of rococo drawings, a suite of Watteau-like images set before us. The grand Baroque gestures of Book …

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David Diamond’s Fourth Symphony: A Neglected Mid-Century Masterwork

There’s a whole group of great American symphonists who came of age in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, flourished in the middle of the century, and then fell into relative neglect as atonality became the ruling doctrine of concert music. Their names include Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, William Schuman, and Roy Harris. David Diamond (1915-2005) is another significant composer from this group. Diamond’s music was programmed in the 1940s and ’50s by …

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Mendelssohn Meets Bach: The Second Cello Sonata

Visit the eastern German city of Leipzig and you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless great composers. Two prominent examples are J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Bach was Kapellmeister at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. A hundred years later, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 to 1847. Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing about a renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach. Amid the elegant simplicity of the …

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Brahms’ First Piano Concerto: Rising to Symphonic Scale

A ferocious, stormy intensity is unleashed in the opening of Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. With an ominous inevitability, the expansive opening theme growls, snarls, and lashes its teeth, rising up like some kind of awesome supernatural power. Immediately, we’re drawn into music which is bold and monumental- a kind of symphony with solo piano. For nearly four years, beginning in 1854, the young Brahms wrestled with the form of …

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New Release: Rachel Barton Pine Plays Elgar and Bruch

Violinist Rachel Barton Pine just released her 36th album in January. It features Edward Elgar’s Violin Concerto in B minor alongside the First Violin Concerto of Max Bruch. Barton Pine is accompanied by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, led by Andrew Litton. She talks about the recording in this recent interview with Richmond Public Radio’s Mike Goldberg. Rachel Barton Pine dedicated the album to “the memory of a musical hero and generous friend, Sir Neville …

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