Was Bach really a ‘tasteless and chaotic composer’?

 on the Spectator:

It’s just not what you expect to hear on Radio 3 but I happened upon Music Matters on Saturday morning and after playing us a clip from the opening chorus of St Matthew Passion Tom Service pronounced, ‘Bach is a tasteless and chaotic composer.’ I felt as if my ears had been syringed.

Service was actually repeating what one of his guests, the Bach scholar John Butt, had just asserted, as if to verify his intention.

You may want to listen to the actual radio programme for context!

Magnificat – Sinfini Music Review

Andrew Stewart, Sinfini Music

There are so many good things about this recording that it’s hard to know where to start. I could listen to Clare Wilkinson sing the first recitative from Bach’s Christmas Cantata BWV 63 all day and still be held by her individuality and insight. Everyone involved – from the compact vocal consort and ace period-instrument players to the cohort of congregational singers – pour heart and soul into their work.

[…]

I’ve heard nothing finer all year.

Read the full review here.

Acis and Galatea – Building a Library – BBC Music Magazine

Our recording of Handel’s Acis and Galatea is the BBC Music Magazine “Building a Library” choice in the November 2015 issue. Given the fantastic recording catalogue of this wonderful piece, we are delighted to have been chosen.

Magnificat – The Irish Times

Michael Dervan, The Irish Times

The scene is set for music-making that’s lucid and festive, captured in sound that’s both intimate and full. A spirited Christmas celebration with a difference.

Read the full review here.

Magnificat – Recording of the Month – MusicWeb International

John Quinn, MusicWeb International

This is one of the most enjoyable and stimulating Bach discs to have come my way since … well, since John Butt’s account of the Johannes-Passion. The performance standards are uniformly excellent and the music is life-enhancing

Read the full review here.

Magnificat – Disc of the Week – BBC Radio 3

Andrew McGregor, BBC Radio 3

My Disc of the Week follows the trend of beginning to think about Christmas before we’ve even made it as far as Halloween or bonfire night. It isn’t our fault though this time I promise – what else are we supposed to do when a new recording is released of the kind of quality as this new one from the Dunedin Consort, in which their music director John Butt reconstructs for us the kind of sounds you might have heard when Bach celebrated his first Christmas day vespers in Leipzig in 1723.

It’s an absolute joy – far too good to keep for Christmas, although if I have my way I’ll be reliving Bach’s first Leipzig Christmas somewhere in London on the 25th of December thanks to this fine new recording.

Magnificat – The Scotsman Review

Ken Walton, The Scotsman

★★★★★

Its contextual placement within a liturgical sequence […] is revelatory. The musicianship is exquisite; the emotional impact is immediate. This is world class, and it’s made in Scotland.

Read the full review here.

Magnificat – The Observer Review

Nicholas Kenyon, The Observer

★★★★★

Another bull’s-eye hit from John Butt’s Dunedin Consort. […] the playing and singing are terrific, and Butt creates a very convincing congregational hymn with organ flourishes.

Read the full review here.

Magnificat – HR Audio Review

Graham Williams, HRAudio

In all respects this is one of the most enjoyable releases that I have encountered this year and cannot recommend too highly. Definitely a disc to put right at the top of your Christmas shopping list.


John Butt could fairly be described as a true Renaissance man in the world of period performances. Conductor, organist, harpsichordist, educator, pioneering researcher and scholar, he and the Edinburgh based group, the Dunedin Consort, that he directs have extended and enriched our understanding of many masterpieces of the Baroque repertoire. His award winning recordings of Bach, Handel and Mozart choral and instrumental works have been revelatory for many in the way that they contextualise familiar works in order to present them in a new light.

On this superb new release Bach’s ‘Magnificat’ BWV 243a and Cantata ‘Christen, ätzet diesen Tag’ BWV 63 are placed within a reconstruction of the composer’s first Christmas Vespers given in the Nikolaikirche, Leipzig on 25th December 1723 – a fascinating and brilliantly executed concept.

The disc begins with the Giovanni Gabrieli Motet ‘Hodie Christus natus est’ for eight voices arranged in two separate choirs. The eight singers of the Dunedin Consort deliver it with their usual excellent intonation and clear diction over a firm organ accompaniment. This is followed by the brief Organ Prelude ‘Gott, durch deine Güte’ BWV600 played by John Butt, who also performs three more of these Preludes during the course of the Vespers.

The opening chorus of the Christmas Cantata, a work composed around 1713-15 almost ten years before Bach reached Leipzig, then bursts forth joyously with its magnificent use of four trumpets (the only time Bach used this number) three oboes and drums. The exquisite singing of the contemplative aria ‘Gott, du hast es wohl gefüget’ with its meltingly beautiful obbligato oboe is one of the many highlights of this performance, but every member of the Dunedin Consort acquit themselves with the utmost distinction. The uplifting final chorus punctuated again with celebratory trumpets and drums brings this most exhilarating performance to a triumphant close.

Between two further Organ Preludes (BWV606 and BWV733) that evidence the power and quality of sound obtainable from the fine 1990 Peter Collins instrument in the Greyfriars Kirk, the soloists of the Dunedin Consort are joined by an additional fifty-five singers for the singing of the Congregational Chorale ‘Vom Himmel hoch’, and what a thrilling sound they make!

We now reach Bach’s ‘Magnificat’ BWV243a which is performed here in its original version of 1723 not the more familiar one that the composer made ten years later. John Butt in the accompanying notes cogently outlines the many differences (especially in instrumentation) between the two versions, the most obvious being the transposition down from E flat to D major in the 1733 version. Equally striking is the interpolation of four ‘Laudes’ at various points in the work. These are settings of seasonal hymns that outline the Christmas story and are an apt addition to the performance. The ‘Magnificat’ BWV 243 is familiar as one of Bach’s most dramatic and exuberant creations, but the Dunedin’s fresh and rhythmically buoyant account of the earlier version given here is quite special and certainly deserves wider dissemination. A final Organ Prelude BWV603 is followed by a rousing account of the second Congregational Chorale ‘Puer natus in Bethlehem’ to complete this inspiring Vespers recording.

Greyfriars Kirk seems to provide the perfect acoustic setting for this marvellous release, and the engineering by Philip Hobbs is exemplary. The multi-channel recording conveys a beautifully clear and well balanced sound picture that allows the many antiphonal effects to be experienced to the full. The scale of the large choruses and as well as the more intimate sections of both the ‘Magnificat’ and the ‘Cantata’ are vividly captured in demonstration worthy sound.

This being Linn we are assured of quality liner notes, here provided by John Butt, and full texts and translations are also included.

Magnificat – Sydsvenskan Review

Tobias Lund, Sydsvenskan

John Butt gör en finkänslig och rörlig rekonstruktion av J S Bachs magnifika vesper.

Read the review in full here.

Coffee & Enlightenment – The Arts Desk Review

David Kettle, The Arts Desk

Together they blended to create a modern-day opportunity to meet, listen, eat, drink and take time to consider some weightier musical and cultural issues.

[…]

It was an experiment for sure. But it was one that paid off in terms of its abundant audience – drawn by the event’s various elements, of course – but also in terms of the engaging, fresh light it shed on the cafe culture of Bach’s time, and in provoking thoughts and discussion about our own.

Read the review in full here.

Monteverdi Vespers – The Guardian Review

Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

Evanescent, visceral, thrilling Monteverdi…

Read the full review here.

East Neuk Festival – The Herald Review

Kate Molleson, The Herald

The hunting horns were heroically ballsy, swinging the cross-rhythms to make the music really dance, and a breezy charisma from all players on stage made for lively, conversational music making

Read the full review here.

Coffee and Enlightenment – The Herald Review

Kate Molleson, The Herald

[…] balancing gutsy panache and pristine, shapely definition in Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite. Cantatas 165 and 31 featured excellent singing from Matthew Brook, Thomas Hobbs, Rachel Redmond and Clare Wilkinson.

Read the review in full here.

Matthew Passion – Best of 2014 – The Herald

We were delighted to be among The Herald’s Kate Molleson’s classical music highlights of 2014.

Dunedin Consort went from strength to strength with superlative recordings and performances…  colourful, lithe and graceful in Bach’s masterpiece Matthew Passion [for which] John Butt conducted with typically fresh, fascinating insight.

Read the article in full here.