Composed in 1778, J.C. Bach's La Clemenza di Scipione is a nice, direct, fat-free work. The arias tend to be short (not one of them is a da capo), the recitatives are to the point and likewise brief, and the action moves swiftly. Roman Scipio (tenor) has taken Cartagena and Spanish soprano princess Arsinda (and her soprano pal, Idalba) prisoner. Male soprano, fellow non-Roman Lucieo, is betrothed to Arsinda, while the Roman general Marzio (tenor) is in love with Idalba and vice-versa. The whole plot revolves around the heroic Lucieo's attempts to rescue Arsinda, et al., his being taken prisoner, and his being threatened by death if he refuses to pledge allegiance to Rome. He never does give in, but Scipio does–hence the clemency–and Scipio gives everyone their freedom once he realizes how impressive a gal Arsinda is. Everyone swears loyalty to Rome. Hooray! There's plenty of room for grief arias, anger arias, revenge arias, why-is-my-life-so-dreadful arias, and if-only-I-could-end-your(-my)-suffering arias, in many tempos.
Written for London audiences in 1770, Johann Christian Bach’s only extant oratorio, Gioas, Re di Guida, is a proverbial curate’s egg. Attempting to please both those weaned on Handel and those hoping to hear the oratorio genre given a rococo makeover, it failed to please either. Such was London’s veneration for the spirit of Handel that Bach was booed when he dared play an organ interlude between acts; and despite George III’s patronage, the work was soon neglected. Audiences of the time simply did not want to hear Italian operatic conventions in their oratorios.
Over 200 years later, such considerations are, thankfully, far less important. While it remains slightly disconcerting to hear quasi-Handelian choruses interpolated into what is in every other respect an opera seria, Bach’s graceful galant manner and his easy, fluid way with vocal melody remain as delightful as ever throughout an increasingly dramatic succession of accompanied recitatives, arias and duets. The fulsome choruses themselves turn out to be the work’s most colourful elements.
Die Hamburger Ratsmusik: ein Ensemble mit 500-jähriger Geschichte. Dieser Gegensatz reizt zum kreativen Dialog zwischen Tradition und Gegenwart, von Alter Musik und lebendiger Interpretation. Die Anfänge der Hamburger Ratsmusik reichen zurück bis ins 16. Jahrhundert. Nach dem Grundsatz „Gott zu Ehren und Hamburg zur Lust, Ergötzlichkeit und Nutz“ leistete sich die Stadt ein Eliteensemble von acht Ratsmusikern, das vielen fürstlichen Hofkapellen Konkurrenz machen konnte.
Admirers of Sir Yehudi Menuhin will be pleased to have this compilation of his early stereo recordings of the major violin concertos. I have always enjoyed his version of the Bach Double Concerto with Christian Ferras; it rightly dominated the catalogue throughout the 1960s, and the spirited baroque vitality of the performance, plus a beautifully judged central Largo, give great satisfaction. Moreover, it demonstrates what a good sound balance Peter Andry and Neville Boyling could achieve in London's Kingsway Hall in 1959.