Review Summary: (n)
I stewed for what seemed like hours, exhausted in my quest to approach Philippe Pierlot's latest Bach interpretation, Consolatio
, in way that would come across as “thoughtful” – whatever that's supposed to mean. Dithering led to the biting of fingernails as I tacked away for the sake of writing something
, the results of which were tantamount to Homer Simpson's “screw Flanders” brand of word-count buffering. Without having saved a phrase, I gave up, tossing the idea of reviewing a Bach recording into the fissures of my mind, revisiting once but within a heartbeat thinking, “I don't know, actually, no”.
That was a month ago.
After all, I can't offer anything that would expand upon the centuries' worth of scholarly dissection and technical analyses of anything and everything Bach. Nor could I muster any kind of novel critique about the profundity of the messages that imbue the man's sacred work. Generations of infinitely more qualified folks have done a better job of that than I could ever hope to, yet I feel this desire to give my two cents for two simple reasons. One, I'd succumbed to a mentality which should never dissuade anyone from enjoying classical music; two, because I adore this recording and believe that more people should hear it. It really isn't that complicated and nor should it be. I can't imagine that Bach, a devout Christian as much as a composer obsessed with artistic beauty and perfection, would've been thrilled by the idea of people hesitating to enjoy his art because of some perception that it's only for a few.
In a way, elitist sentiments find themselves in stark contrast to the titular theme of this recording's first Cantata, “Die Elenden Sollen Essen / The Miserable Shall Eat” – a commentary on those who are poor of wealth but rich in spirit. It's anything but unwelcoming; though Bach was sometimes dismissed as a contrapuntalist in his day, the technical brilliance of his work was nevertheless eclipsed by its majesty and grace. Director Pierlot seems to understand the great composer's intent, or at least his presuppositions about them match my own. Under his command, Ricercar Consort seem to politely guide the more melodic sensibilities to the foreground. Left standing behind them at arm's length are the intricacies, content to play a supporting role and ready to be heard at the behest of the more studious.
In lieu of the rigidity that often plagues what we hear of the Baroque period, there is a kind of joyousness to the performances here. Hannah Morrison's soprano singing is the crown jewel, existing at the nexus between the tenor and baritone voices, as well as strings and wind instruments that are in constant tandem with each other. A hint – and I mean a hint
– of glitz comes courtesy of the gossamer harpsichord, seldom absent but always welcomed to offer its glistening timbres as a counterpoint to the slickness of its company.
The seamless coalescence of all these elements is something of a rarity in the utterly saturated catalogue of Bach recordings. Conviction in both the execution and direction is apparent within the blink of an eye; there is both freedom and a healthy dose of discipline; expression is not simply contrasted with but is enriched by and derives from perfection, so on and so forth. This comes across regardless of source material, whether it be via the grandeur of “Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott” or “Die Elenden Sollen Essen”'s tame-by-comparison second aria. Even uniformity of quality hasn't given way to uniformity of experience, a variance that has proven illusive for some of the field's most accomplished players. Whether Consolatio
is true to Bach's vision we cannot know for sure, but Pierlot and his little collective have crafted something that is arresting in all the right ways.