Thursday, 10 May 2018

Emmanuelle Haïm in Bach and Handel

In his interesting study of J.S. Bach and his music, Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner makes an interesting case for respecting the dance-like rhythms in Bach's music, even the church music such as the cantatas. He frowns at the tendency in much of northern Europe to imbue Bach's church music with a Protestant reverent piousness. Gardiner would approve of the recording of Bach's Magnificat directed by the ever-talented Emmanuelle Haïm with her Concert D'Astrée. Under Haïm's direction, the music is alive, just as Bach surely intended in this work where he appears to be showing off his prodigious talents. I seem to have nine different recordings of the Magnificat, about the only Bach work apart from the Mass in B minor that uses the Latin language. I love Haïm's recording, and even love the singing of Philippe Jaroussky, the counter-tenor for whom I always make an exception.

On the same CD is one of the few works by Handel in the Latin language, the Dixit Dominus dating from 1707 when Handel was just 22 years old and living in Rome. The work is a veritable tour de force, with the young Handel showing off his prodigious talents. On this CD, Bach and Handel go head-to-head; Bach's music takes just over 25 minutes, Handel's 30 minutes (both as directed by Haïm). Predictably, neither composer is the outright winner, since their music is always as different as chalk and cheese. So ironic that despite being born only six weeks apart in the same region of Germany, the two never met. Anyway, some 300 years later, the music of both composers is still going strong. Oddly enough, I have only one other recording of Dixit Dominus and that is also French, conducted by Marc Minkowski. But Ms Haïm is going to be a hard act to follow, since her performance is a tour de force of Handel's tour de force. And a recording of both works that features Natalie Dessay, Philippe Jaroussky and Laurent Naouri (amongst others) really assembles a lot of first-class talent. The recording was made in Paris in 2006 and is of excellent quality. Ms Haïm, of whom I almost always approve highly, is no follower of the north European pious approach to the church music of Bach, Handel or Vivaldi. I like her L'Orfeo (Monteverdi), Messiah (Handel), La Resurrezione (Handel) and Dido and Aeneas (Purcell) plus many of her other Handel recordings.

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