Posts Tagged ‘Bach’

Last night’s St Matthew Passion: the very highest of high art

April 6, 2009
Bach’s St Matthew Passion at the Barbican in London last night was the very highest of high art.

Composer: JS Bach is the Main Man, the patron saint of all musicians. This is one of his finest works.

Orchestra: Leipzig Gewandhaus – the definitive interpreters of Bach’s sacred music.

Choirs: St Thomas’ Boys Choir (Leipzig) and Tolz Boys Choir (Bavaria). I doubt I’ll ever witness a superior choral performance. Each passage made you feel you were entering Heaven itself.

Soloists, notably Johannes Chum (Evangelist): outstanding.

Music does not come any more inspiring than this.

Bach’s St Matthew Passion was the second of a trio of sacred music gigs for Easter that I’ll be attending. To come: Bach’s St John Passion at King’s College Cambridge on Wednesday.

I’ll have to reconsider my policy of buying cheapskate seats at the Barbican, though.

Last night I was flanked by two objectionable septuagenarians. The one on the left – the greasy, lank long grey hair was the giveaway – stunk; his clothes clearly hadn’t had much contact with a washing machine.

The obese boy on my right had serious breathing problems, which intruded badly in the quieter passages, especially the soloists’ arias.

I’m all for access, but unfortunates with seriously anti-social conditions should be encouraged to stay home. Or someone less tolerant might be provoked to throw them over the balcony.

Gerry Smith

Bach, Handel and The Smiths on BBC Four tonight

March 13, 2009
BBC Four, sometime* patron of music for grown-ups, has a wonderfully eclectic roster tonight – JS Bach at 1930, followed by some divine Handel and then a doc on, and clips from, Rough Trade, the seminal London indie record label which introduced The Smiths and Pulp, among others, to an unsuspecting world.

This is inspired programming by the digital TV channel for grown-ups.

*BBC Four’s music programming generally brings great musicians to a new audience, but some of its recent output has been dire – ill-chosen pap, schlock-filled profiles of show biz entertainers, blah blah… – somebody is slipping up….

Gerry Smith

Sacred music for Easter by Bach, Handel and Haydn at King’s College Cambridge

March 11, 2009
You don’t have to be a believer to appreciate the great Christian cultural legacy – soaring Gothic cathedrals, the cadences of the English language of the King James Bible, and a canon of sacred music that could keep you enthralled for a lifetime.

Easter’s the high point of the Christian calendar, which usually means some great sacred music gigs.

This year’s Easter offering by King’s College Cambridge is mouth-watering. The highlights are Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s St John Passion and a celebration of Haydn.

I’m going to the Bach gig on Wed 8 April. King’s is one of the great iconic music venues of the English-speaking world; it’s my first visit, so I’m counting the days.

Gerry Smith

Bach, Lou Reed, Count Basie

December 16, 2008
FREE! Music for grown-ups on the BBC in the next 10 days

Hidden among its vast TV and radio output, the BBC broadcasts some magnificent music for grown-ups every week of the year. Xmas week 2008 is spectacularly good. And it’s all free – well, sort of….

Thurs 18 Dec
2100 Louis Armstrong, Omnibus – BBC Four
2210 Louis Armstrong, Show Of The Week – BBC Four
2300 Louis Armstrong, Good Evening Ev’rybody – BBC Four
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 19 Dec
2130 & 0220 The Swing Thing – BBC Four

Sat 20 Dec
1215 Puccini Season, Music Matters – BBC Radio 3
1600 Count Basie, Jazz Library – BBC Radio 3

1700 Massenet’s Thais, from the Met, with Renee Fleming – BBC Radio 3
1900 Louis Prima, Legends – BBC Four
2100 Count Basie & His Orchestra – BBC Four
2200 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2
2330 Artie Shaw, Quest For Perfection – BBC Four

Sun 21 Dec
1900 Bach, Christmas Oratorio from Weimar – BBC Four
2230 Oscar Peterson In Concert – BBC Four
2300 Billie Holiday, Reputations – BBC Four
2400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6Music

Mon 22 Dec
1200 & 2200 Puccini, Composer Of The Week
(1/5, continues Tues-Fri) – BBC Radio 3
1900 Bach at Christmas (1/3, continues Tues-Wed) – BBC Radio 3
2200 Bach, Christmas Oratorio from Weimar – BBC Four

Wed 24 Dec
1830 Carols from King’s – BBC2

Thurs 25 Dec
1400 Festival Of Nine Lessons & Carols, from King’s – BBC Radio 3
1500 Hansel und Gretel, from Covent Garden – BBC2
1950 Handel’s Messiah, LSO/Davis, from The Barbican – BBC Four
2300 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC Radio 2

Fri 26 Dec
1400 Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour – BBC 6Music
2200 Quincy Jones: The Many Lives Of Q – BBC Four

Online access: many BBC radio programmes are broadcast live online – please see the channels’ web sites for details. Some BBC radio and TV programmes are also accessible online via iPlayer for a short period after transmission:

And on the commercial networks:

Tues 23 Dec
0125 Spectacle: Elvis Costello with Lou Reed – C4

Gerry Smith

Bach’s St John Passion: the Proms highlight

August 25, 2008
Last night’s Proms performance of Bach’s St John Passion, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC4 TV, was suitably divine.

The English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir were exquisite. The solo voices, led by Mark Padmore (tenor) as the Evangelist, sang beautifully. Conductor John Eliot Gardiner kept it all moving along with firmness and finesse.

Quite apart from the powerful photography/direction and the use of subtitles to translate the text from the German, the digital TV technology was well employed to enrich the experience, with useful textual info on composer, work and performers.

Until last night, I’d hardly been excited by the Proms 2008 season but this Bach was spectacular. I only wish I’d been in the hall to witness it.

You can hear/watch it for another 6 days:

Gerry Smith

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next seven days

May 7, 2008

Over the next seven days, I hope to catch/record some wonderful music for grown-ups on TV/radio:


Wed 7 May

1200/2045 Schubert’s later work, Composer Of The Week – BBC Radio 3

(3/5, continues Thurs-Fri)


Fri 9 May

2100 Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan (Series 2) – BBC 6 Music

2200 Kings Of Cool – The Classic Crooners – BBC Four

2230 Jack De Johnette, Jazz Library – BBC Radio 3

2330 Bill Frisell, Jazz on 3 – BBC Radio 3


Sun 11 May

1300 Bach In Leipzig, Early Music Show – BBC Radio 3



Gerry Smith

FREE! Music for grown-ups on air in the next seven days

March 19, 2008

Over the next seven days, I hope to catch/record these tempting TV/radio broadcasts: 

Wed 19 March:  2045 Schoenberg, Composer Of The Week (3/5) – BBC Radio 3

(Plus programme 4 on Thurs, 5 on Fri) 

Good Friday 21 March: 1830 Bach’s St John Passion – BBC Radio 3

2000 Sacred Music (1/4) – BBC Four (repeated Sat 1900)

2230 Anita O’Day, Jazz Library – BBC Radio 3 

Sun 23 March:2030 Sacred Music – live concert – BBC Four 

Monday 24 March:2230 Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour (Instruments) – BBC Radio 2   

Gerry Smith

Sacred music – BBC Four’s promising new series

March 17, 2008

BBC Four, the TV channel for grown-ups, continues its exciting programming of high quality music with a promising new four-part series on sacred music, starting on Good Friday. 

Sounds like Musical Heaven to me … not to be missed …

This is what they’re saying about it:

“Taking the viewer on a pilgrimage spanning six centuries … performed by the award-winning choir ‘The Sixteen’ conducted by Harry Christophers …

“In the opening programme ‘The Gothic Revolution’ begins at St Paul’s Cathedral … travels to Paris to discover how, at the close of the twelfth century, plainsong (chant) became polyphony (music of ‘many voices’) – the birth of harmony in the west.

“The next stop in the series is Italy. In ‘Palestrina and the Popes’ …  links between the papal intrigues of Renaissance Rome and the music of the enigmatic Palestrina, ‘The Prince of Music’. Palestrina’s work is considered by many to be unsurpassed in its spiritual perfection, but running underneath it is the turbulent story of the counter-reformation, which would have a dramatic impact on the composer’s life and music …

“ episode three ‘Tallis, Byrd and the Tudors’ … the effect of Henry VIII’s break with the Pope and the subsequent tumultuous history of the founding of the Protestant Church in England through the careers of two professional church musicians who were also superlative choral composers …

“ … Germany where Luther’s Protestant Reformation led to a musical revolution and ultimately to the glorious works of Johann Sebastian Bach …

“A 90-minute celebratory concert accompanies the documentaries with music from the series for Easter Sunday performed by Harry Christophers and ‘The Sixteen’, specially recorded at LSO St Luke’s in London.”

Gerry Smith