Bach's Double, with Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers
On The Bach Hour, the Los Angeles-based violinist performs both parts - each on a different Stradivarius instrument - of one of the composer’s most dramatic concertos.
On the program:
Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F, BWV 1047 - Maurice Andre, trumpet; Janos Rolla, violin; Maxence Larrieu, flute; Bernard Schenkel, oboe; Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra
Cantata BWV 131 Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir (translation) - Regine Jurda, alto; Maximilian Kiener, tenor; Franz Schlecht, bass; Arcis-Vocalisten Munich and L'Arpa Festante Baroque Orchestra, Thomas Gropper, conductor
Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, BWV 1041: III. Allegro assai - Anne Akiko Meyers, violin; English Chamber Orchestra, Steven Mercurio, conductor
Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, BWV 1043 - Anne Akiko Meyers, violin 1 & 2; English Chamber Orchestra, Steven Mercurio, conductor
Anne Akiko Meyers: Playing Bach is like putting a mirror up to yourself, and it just seems to replenish your soul.
Brian McCreath: “Replenishing the soul” is something we all need from time to time. And for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, that need led to a collection of Bach’s music that she calls simply “Air.”
You’ll hear from Anne Akiko Meyers, in both words and music, coming up, on The Bach Hour.
Hello, I’m Brian McCreath; welcome to The Bach Hour, from Classical Radio Boston WCRB, a part of WGBH. Our mental picture of Bach often sees him sitting at the organ console, but he also never left behind his first instrument, the violin. And you’ll hear some his most gorgeous and invigorating works for that instrument with Anne Akiko Meyers on this program. You’ll also hear the Cantata No. 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, or “Out of the depths I call, Lord, to You,” a gorgeous but unusual piece that may be Bach’s very first cantata. If you’d like to see a translation of the text for that piece you’ll find a link at Classical WCRB dot org, where you can also hear this program again on-demand. Again, that’s at Classical WCRB dot org.
The violin may have been Bach’s first instrument, but the trumpet also played a big role in his life. Both his father and his father-in-law were professional trumpeters, and during his time in Leipzig, one of Bach’s most reliably brilliant musicians was trumpeter Gottfried Reiche.
So there’s little question that Bach would have appreciated the brilliance of Maurice Andre. Probably no trumpeter in the last century did more to bring baroque music to the widest possible audience. He had a way of making the impossibly difficult sound graceful and sweet. Here is Maurice Andre in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, with the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra, here on The Bach Hour.
Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, with trumpeter Maurice Andre and the Liszt Chamber Orchestra.
In 1707, the 22-year-old Bach was working as an organist in Mühlhausen when the town suffered a devastating fire. About a quarter of the town was lost, and most scholars agree that it was this event that prompted a request for Bach to write a penitential cantata.
The Cantata 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, opens with words of grief, as the choir sings, “Out of the depths I call, Lord, to You,” from Psalm 130. And that’s followed more from the same Psalm, sung by a bass soloist as the choir simultaneously sings a 16th century chorale that prays for mercy in the face of hardship.
The heart of the cantata arrives next, when the chorus sings more from Psalm 130: “I await the Lord, and I hope in His word.”
From that point, hope takes over, ending with an choral affirmation of the believer’s redemption.
It may not be as sophisticated as the works Bach would later write in Leipzig. But there’s a beautiful flow to the Cantata 131 that captures the constantly fluctuating character of emotion in the midst of loss.
Remember, you can find a complete translation of the text for this piece by visiting us online at Classical WCRB dot org. Here is Bach’s Cantata No. 131, with alto Regine Jurda, tenor Maximilian Kiener, and bass Franz Schlecht. Thomas Gropper conducts the Arcis Vocalists of Munich and L'Arpa Festante Baroque Orchestra.
The Cantata No. 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, or “Out of the depths I call, Lord, to You,” one of J.S. Bach’s earliest sacred vocal pieces. Thomas Gropper led the Arcis Vocalists of Munich and L'Arpa Festante Baroque Orchestra, with alto Regine Jurda, tenor Maximilian Kiener, and bass Franz Schlecht.
Violinist Anne Akiko Meyers has recorded music by composers as wide-ranging as the Impressionistic voices of Ravel and Debussy to composers of our time like Jennifer Higdon and Joseph Schwantner.
But she says that there’s a unique challenge to playing Bach’s music:
Anne Akiko Meyers: I needed to kind of almost bring him down from God-like reverence, which I have for him, you know, and it becomes intimidating in a way. You know, it's like to play Bach is like, how dare you? You know, like, are you sure you're ready to play Bach? You know, there's always that kind of attitude with Bach. So I, I just constantly thought that this guy had over 20 babies, you know, he definitely had a passion for life, a zest for life and a great sense of humor. And I see and I heard a lot of the humor in the music when I was practicing it. So that really spoke to me.
Brian McCreath: The third movement of Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1, from an all-Bach recording by violinist Anne Akiko Meyers called “Air.” Among the other in this collection is the Concerto in D minor for two violins, with both solo parts played by Meyers. Yes, it’s a trick of modern technology. But, as Meyers told me, in embodying - literally - two distinct voices, there’s also a true artistic endeavor at work in this performance:
Anne Akiko Meyers: I recently acquired the Molitor Napoleon Stradivarius violin dated 1697, so I'm playing the first violin part on Molly, I call her, and I'm playing the second part on the Royal Spanish Strad that I still have at home.
Brian McCreath: What was it that made now the right time for you to take on these concertos in a recording session?
Anne Akiko Meyers: Well, I think with the quality of the violin that I'm playing on right now, there is something just so, so tempting, you know, because playing Bach is like putting a mirror up to yourself. And it seems to replenish your soul when you play Bach. There's something very pure sounding about the Molitor Stradivarius that I'm playing on now, and just the combination of the two just seem to fit like a glove.
Brian McCreath: J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for two violins, in a performance that featured one violinist. Anne Akiko Meyers performed both of the solo parts of the concerto, each of them played on different Stradivarius violins as a way of unlocking each instrument’s particular character. Meyers was joined by the English Chamber Orchestra and conductor Steven Mercurio.
Remember, you can hear this program again on demand when you visit us online at Classical WCRB dot org.
Thank you for joining me today, and thanks also to audio engineer Antonio Oliart Ros. I’m Brian McCreath, and I’ll hope to have your company again next week here on The Bach Hour.