on 10 July 2013
This is a most attractive disc. It is a reissue from Delos and the recordings date from 1989/90/91. The two major items - the Bach/Respighi Passacaglia and Fugue and the Bach /Elgar Fantasia and Fugue - are also contained in the Slatkin/BBC Philharmonic recording on Chandos which is sublime, with exceptional recording quality, but which costs some £7 more. Schwarz and his Seattle orchestra offer a good selection of Bach transcriptions. Schwarz is slightly slower than Slatkin and allows his orchestra to play securely but with energy and commitment. The Bach Prelude and Fugue and the Passacaglia have fine brass playing and the whole orchestra play with suitable exuberance in the Bach/Elgar Fantasia and Fugue. The problem is the recording which has a slightly recessed sound. You feel a need for a greater sense of expansion at certain points, such as at the end of Wachet Auf, which probably relates to the age of the recording. Overall, the disc needs to be played at a slightly higher level than normal to compensate. I've heard the Seattle Symphony Orchetra play live and they are a fine orchestra. I've played this recording a lot since I bought it a few weeks ago and the performances are v.attractive, with energy and style. Overall, it is recommended with enthusiasm, but with minor qualifications over the sound quality .
on 28 January 2014
More than fifty years ago the orchestral transcriptions were my route into the music of Bach, a route that I might otherwise never have taken and great indeed would have been my loss. Whatever the purists may have to say on the matter, I have never ceased to derive real pleasure from manty of the great transcriptions and this disc with its appealing programme is no exception. The playing and recording are of high qualty and the conducting is fluent and assured.
on 26 April 2014
This disc was originally issued by the Delos label and it now returns to the catalogue on Naxos. Bach purists do not need to read any further. It’s almost certainly not for you. For those who can accept these sorts of transcriptions as works in their own right, this will definitely be of some interest. Respighi is a master of orchestration and his handling of the orchestral forces is up there with the best of them but don’t expect the sort of fireworks that you will find in his Roman Trilogy. Indeed, much of his work here is very subtle; more akin to the kind of writing you will come across in the Ancient Airs and Dances.
When listening to a disc such as this it’s always best to avoid going to the shelves, searching out recordings of the original works and then making comparisons. This would be a pointless exercise, just like comparing apples and pears. The key question is - do these transcriptions do justice to the original works and are they worth hearing? On the whole the answer is a definite yes. Stylistically the Three Choral Preludes are played with a seamless, legato string tone. Beauty of sound seems to be the essence of Respighi’s writing and Gerard Schwarz’s direction of the orchestra. The playing is top drawer but to be frank, after a few minutes the effect can be somewhat cloying especially with such a preponderance of understated, quiet music. The arrangement of the Violin Sonata, expertly delivered by soloist Ilkka Talvi, strikes me as being very successfully crafted and more interesting to listen to. There is still some wonderful legato playing to be found here but the whole performance is nicely pointed with far more light and shade when compared to the Choral Preludes. You can listen to this as a baroque concerto in its own right.
Respighi’s mastery really kicks in when we come to the Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 532 and the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582. The sound world is now somewhat closer to Stokowski’s transcriptions. I’m not implying that they are in any way tasteless or over the top but there is an air of excitement running through both works. Just for the record I’m a big fan of Stokowski. Gerard Schwarz really lets rip here and the orchestral recording is sumptuous and detailed. The players clearly enjoy themselves. It’s really stirring stuff. There are a few shaky moments of ensemble in the Fugue in D as the fragments fly around the various sections of the orchestra but these moments are fleeting and don’t spoil the experience.
Now to the highlight of the disc - the Fantasia and Fugue in C minor BWV 537. This isn’t transcribed by Respighi but by Sir Edward Elgar. After a delightfully Elgarian opening of great nobility the Fantasia (with its great climax and bass drum thump at around 5 minutes in) gives way to a Fugue that is a real kitchen sink job. Trumpets and percussion have a field day. Havergal Brian himself would surely approve of what takes place here! It borders on bad taste to be honest but it’s also incredibly compelling and exciting and as a piece of orchestral writing it’s a winner. Stokowski sounds relatively understated by comparison. What stunning playing too.
To conclude, here’s a summary in two words - buy it.